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County Council shuffles seats, ruffles feathers

The changing of the guard at the St. Louis County Council was not a surprise on Tuesday, Jan. 7. Council member Ernie Trakas [R-District 6] graciously stepped aside from the chairman’s seat after serving for most of the past year. But what transpired afterward left at least a few council members miffed. With Democrats currently holding a majority of the seats on the council, it was expected they would nominate one of their own to replace Trakas. That honor fell to council member Lisa Clancy [D-District 5] who was the only member nominated and approved unanimously. However, the council’s sense of congeniality passed quickly when it came time to nominate and vote for a vice chair. Council member Mark Harder [R-District 7] was nominated, and Clancy quickly moved for a vote on his nomination. The members voted strictly along party lines which made Harder’s bid for the vice chairman’s seat particularly short lived. The swift move to a vote drew the ire of Harder and his fellow Republicans on the council. He called for a point of order and asked County Counselor Beth Orwick to weigh in on the validity of the process that had just taken place. Harder contended that Clancy should have entertained all nominations for the vice chairman position prior to calling for a vote on his candidacy. After a brief exchange, Clancy requested a short break to speak privately with Orwick, who provides legal advice to county officials upon request. After a few moments, the meeting resumed and Clancy announced she would now entertain other nominations for the position of vice chairman. Council member Rita Heard Days [D-District 1] then nominated Rochelle Walton Gray [D-District 4] for the position. The resulting vote fell strictly along party lines with Gray being approved 4-3.
St. Louis County Council’s new presiding officer, Lisa Clancy [D-District 5] speaks with reporters after her first meeting as the chairperson. [Jeffrey Bricker photo]
After the meeting, Harder was still sore with what transpired. “It was awkward the way it was handled here tonight,” Harder told reporters after the meeting. “It should be an open nomination … not a close nomination the way they did it. It was awkward as you saw. And I’m still skeptical about the way it was handled.” Harder said it was tenure and experience on the council that he felt qualified him for the seat. He expressed no hard feelings toward Gray but felt his “institutional knowledge” would be an asset with so many fellow members serving in their first year. For her part, Clancy was upbeat when speaking with reporters after the meeting. “It’s an honor to be in this position. I appreciate the votes of confidence … I remain optimistic about the things we can accomplish together when we put our citizens of St. Louis County first,” she said. When asked about her priorities as the new presiding officer for the county council, Clancy pointed to benchmarks many of her colleagues also have talked about in the past. “My priorities are what the community’s priorities are,” Clancy said. “Economic development, safe communities. Housing is something I will continue to champion … I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues.” Clancy has been on the forefront of the county’s new efforts toward affordable housing. Late last year, the council passed a bill authored by Clancy that provides for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Supporters praised the bill as a move toward housing equality. All three Republicans on the council voted against the bill with at least one citing concerns around increased taxes. While the role of chairperson/presiding officer carries no real added authority, the member who serves in the role does enjoy a heightened public profile. Prior to Trakas, current County Executive Sam Page served as the council’s presiding officer.

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