ST. LOUIS — Madison County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler cast doubt Tuesday on the legitimacy of Bi-State Development CEO Taulby Roach’s hiring, saying Roach did not receive the necessary number of votes during the November board meeting that selected him.
And a board member appointed by Prenzler said Tuesday that the minutes reflecting the vote were not accurate when they were presented to the board a few months later. They incorrectly reflected a yes vote from a commissioner who had voted no.
“The minutes of the closed session should be made public,” Prenzler said in a statement released Tuesday. “Bi-State has an obligation to follow its own policies.”
The new allegations about an improper vote at the meeting where Roach was selected come as Madison County is a governor’s signature away from losing a seat on Bi-State’s board to St. Clair County. Meanwhile, St. Louis County is in the midst of budget negotiations with Bi-State, and St. Louis County Executive Sam Page signaled concern last week that the amount the county was being asked to fund was rising even as service there was being cut back.
Bi-State, which operates Metro Transit, has a board made up of 10 commissioners, five each from the Missouri and Illinois sides of the metro area. Its rules require that decisions have the support of a majority of both Illinois board members and Missouri board members present at its meetings.
Minutes from the Nov. 16 meeting where Roach was selected indicate four Illinois commissioners were present, two each from St. Clair and Madison counties. Prenzler, a Republican, said the two Madison County commissioners, Derrick Cox and Justin Zimmerman, did not vote to hire Roach, denying him the majority from the Illinois side.
Zimmerman could not be reached. Cox said Tuesday the allegations were true. He said Roach was presented to the board as the person to hire, and that some board members “knew the votes were not there” at that November meeting.
When board members were presented with minutes of the November meeting a couple of months later, Cox said they reflected Zimmerman voting for Roach. The board voted to change the minutes back to reflect the actual vote tally, Cox said.
Cox said he has no ill will against Roach, who he said is “working hard and dealing with the circumstances that he was dealt.” He said he told Roach about the vote total issue, concerned it could be used against him some day.
“I told Taulby it wasn’t his fault,” Cox said. “You don’t have the votes, and someone can almost use that as leverage.”
Bi-State spokeswoman Patti Beck refused Tuesday to release minutes of the Nov. 16 vote where the board decided to pursue a contract with Roach, which she says the board can do. Bi-State has previously said it is not subject to public information laws because it is an interstate compact agency.
Bi-State’s rules bylaws say the tally of a final vote does need to be released. Beck released the vote Dec. 13 where board members unanimously approved Roach’s contract.
In a statement, Beck said: “Any prior discussions, consensus or votes that may have occurred regarding candidates for the position of Bi-State Development President and CEO were preliminary to the hiring decision made by the Board on December 13, 2018.”
Roach said Tuesday he believed he had support on the Bi-State board.
“I was presented with a contract by the board chairman and the head of the employment committee. It was a good contract. I signed it and since Jan. 2, I’ve been working toward making transit better in St. Louis. I believe I have the support of the board today and tomorrow.”
He said he was able to reach seven of the 10 commissioners on Tuesday — everyone but Aliah Holman, Vernal Brown and Irma Golliday — and confirm that he had their support. That would be enough to keep him in his job.
As for whether the vote was valid, he said, “I wasn’t there. It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to comment on executive sessions that I was not a part of, personnel matters where I was the subject, but what I can tell you is I continue to get their endorsement.”
Asked why he thought board members were suddenly questioning the legitimacy of his hiring, Roach said St. Louis County was “understandably trying to be very cautious” about “looking into every issue with openness and transparency, but I live that ethic every day. I’m supported in that ethic by my board and we intend on proving that to this board, and perhaps this is coming out of that; I don’t know.”
The Post-Dispatch has previously reported on the involvement of former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger’s office and St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson and St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern in Roach’s hiring process.
“The Bi-State board is responsible for the integrity of the selection process,” Winston Calvert, chief of staff for Page, a Democrat, said in a statement. “This is a very important time for everyone to know who’s in charge and for Bi-State’s leader to have our region’s confidence.”
In Illinois, a bill that would allow St. Clair County to dominate the Illinois Bi-State delegation awaits the signature of Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat. The bill, passed this year, would allow St. Clair County to have four of the five seats from Illinois. The bill is written so that counties who do not contract for light rail service with Bi-State — MetroLink runs through St. Clair County and Madison County doesn’t participate in its operation — would get four votes.
Before being hired at Bi-State, Roach worked for the St. Clair County Transit District since 2002. The district contracts with Bi-State/Metro to provide bus service there and oversees other activities. St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern is a Democrat. Roach lives in the Central West End and his father was involved in city politics.
In St. Louis County, discussions are underway over Bi-State’s $164.3 million budget request to operate Metro transit. The public transit service annually receives about half of its budget from St. Louis County. Ernie Trakas, presiding officer of the St. Louis County Council and a Republican, has promised hearings and a “deep dive” into Bi-State’s request for St. Louis County funds. Page recently sent a letter to the County Council saying the county is being asked to shoulder more of the agency’s budget while service in its boundaries is being cut.
“If the allegations as stated are true, that is extremely concerning,” Trakas said Tuesday. “The minutes of the board of commissioners should be made public and I’m confident the council will look into this in-depth.”
Bi-State’s last CEO was John Nations, a St. Louis County resident who didn’t get along with former county executive Steve Stenger. Nations left last year before his contract was up.