CLAYTON • In the discord now part and parcel of pre-election St. Louis County governance, the free-for-all that masqueraded as Tuesday’s council meeting established a new high — or low, as the case may be — for rancor.
“I’ve never in my 24 years on the council seen it like this,” Councilman Greg Quinn, R-7th District, remarked after the meeting. “We haven’t had this amount of volume and nastiness for some time.”
The meeting began with a top aide to Charlie Dooley labeling Councilman Steve Stenger, the county executive’s opponent in the August primary, a “political zero furthering your political career on the backs of black children.”
And ended with a verbal confrontation between Dooley and Quinn that escalated to the point that cooler heads were forced to step between the two would-be combatants.
Sandwiched in the middle was the passage of legislation characterized in racial terms by Democratic Council Chair Hazel Erby and what was tantamount to a floor debate over the rules guiding council votes.
“We are dysfunctional,” Erby declared at one point, the sole observation made over the course of a long evening about which all parties — Dooley included — could surely agree.
By the time the smoke cleared, the council had voted 5-1 to move a bill forward that will ultimately supersede the executive order on minority inclusion benchmarks signed into law last week by Dooley.
The legislation keeps in place the 20 percent minority and 5 percent female hiring goals on county construction projects.
But unlike the measure supported by Erby and Dooley, the bill passed Tuesday will impose an apprenticeship program on any county project in excess of $25,000.
Dooley and Erby maintain the $25,000 threshold places an unfair burden on minority and female contractors.
“It’s favoritism toward labor unions,” Erby said after the meeting.
She dismissed Stenger’s point that she and Dooley had championed nearly identical legislation two years ago. Her support, Erby explained, was contingent on revisiting and improving the 2012 bill at a later date.
Erby had earlier noted that the lone vote against the bill was cast by the only African-American on the council.
Moments later, Erby and her colleagues were at it again — this time over the council chair’s attempt to remove from the agenda a bill to establish an Office of Diversity to oversee the provisions of the inclusion guidelines.
Erby said she believed the legislation was superfluous since the Dooley executive order in effect had already created the diversity office.
County Counselor Patricia Redington and council aides consulted the rule book to determine if the sponsor of a bill — in this case Erby — could ask that the legislation be struck after it had already been introduced for passage.
Whispered advice ensued.
And eventually the issue was back on the table, where it received preliminary council approval by another 5-1 vote.
Erby — a staunch proponent of the diversity office — cast the lone dissent.
Quinn later explained that, unlike the executive order, the council vote will allow the establishment of the diversity office in the county code.
The West County councilman accused Dooley of confronting him about his support of the two bills after the meeting.
“I honestly think the county executive is out of control,” Quinn said. “He was calling me names I can’t repeat on the air. He was much louder tonight than he normally is, although that’s been pretty loud lately.”
As he has over five weeks of steadily escalating tension, Dooley dismissed the antagonism as a byproduct of his Aug. 5 primary showdown with Stenger.
“It is ugly, but it is people disagreeing on principles. That’s life and that’s American democracy at its best,” he said.
“From a holistic point-of-view, this is a disagreement for only a short period of time.”
Which isn’t to say the hostilities will cease anytime soon.
Mike Jones is the Dooley aide who took aim at Stenger on Tuesday over a press release in which the candidate suggested that a portion of the Children’s Service Fund’s $75 million-plus reserve might be diverted to support the troubled Normandy school district.
Jones, as it happens, is also the vice president of the Missouri School Board.
He informed Stenger that in his “entire worthless political life” he had never done “one thing on behalf of black children.”
And he promised the councilman and candidate “I’m going to kill a hyena” when the council convenes a pre-meeting hearing called by Stenger next Tuesday to discuss the Normandy situation.