CLAYTON — A panel studying potential changes to the setup of St. Louis County government has rejected a proposal that would have let voters decide on hiring a professional manager to run the county’s day-to-day operations.
The St. Louis County Charter Commission voted 6-6 on the proposal at its regular meeting last week. The 14-member panel needed nine votes to place any potential change on the ballot. The panel has advanced a handful of less-significant changes that still have a chance to be placed before voters.
But late Monday night, County Councilman Tim Fitch tweeted that he would be filing a request Tuesday for legislation to put the issue on the April 2020 ballot.
In an unrelated process, a Board of Freeholders will study potential changes in the governments of St. Louis and St. Louis County, including a possible consolidation. Mayor Lyda Krewson and County Executive Sam Page have each made nine appointments to the board, and Gov. Mike Parson will make one appointment.
Changing to a “council-manager” government was the most radical change under consideration by the commission, which St. Louis County voted to form last November. Several mayors and city managers spoke in favor of the change at a meeting earlier this year, saying it works in their cities and it would help prevent the kind of corruption that occurred under Page’s predecessor, Steve Stenger.
In a “council-manager” form of government, a manager or administrator with degrees and credentials in public administration is tasked with preparing the budget, running departments and carrying out elected officials’ policies. Because the manager is not elected, in theory, the position is more insulated from politics and less susceptible to corruption.
The idea held currency with some members of the charter commission after a federal pay-to-play investigation revealed Stenger’s schemes to direct county contracts to campaign donors.
But the idea did not have Page’s support.Doug Moore, Page’s spokesman, said in August the “charter seemed to work well … before Stenger took office.” And while just one of the six yes votes were county employees, five of the six no votes work for the county.
Charter commission member Colleen Wasinger, who sponsored the measure, said she was “disappointed that the majority of commission members did not advance professional management to be considered by the voters. I feel that is a decision on a material issue that the charter commission should not make. The voters of St. Louis County should be given the opportunity to decide their form of government.”
But commission member Tony Weaver Sr. said, “I don’t see a major problem with the current structure that we have in place today. Everyone is always trying to fight the Stenger era and what he did. … I think we need to regroup and focus on policies and procedures in place that aren’t working and fix those.”
Weaver said the county needs to address economic disparity in St. Louis County and problems that some perceive in the police department.
“A city manager is not going to be able to fix that,” Weaver said.
Under the charter, the commission has until Dec. 31 to come up with changes to the charter. If at least nine members agree on revisions, those would go to county voters in 2020.
Editor’s note: This item has been updated to correct the name of Tony Weaver Sr.