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Plan barring side jobs for St. Charles County executive won’t be on April ballot

Onder and Ehlmann

Sen. Bob Onder (left) is eyeing a race for St. Charles county executive, challenging incumbent Steve Ehlmann. Both men are Republicans.

(Post-Dispatch file photos)

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ST. CHARLES COUNTY — County Executive Steve Ehlmann has dropped his push to have voters decide in April whether to bar occupants of his office from doing side jobs for pay.

Ehlmann, in an email to County Council members, said he still supports making such a change via a county charter amendment but that more time is needed to hash out the wording of the proposal.

The council had been expected Monday night to take up a bill to add the issue to the April 5 ballot, amid strong opposition from state Sen. Bob Onder of Lake Saint Louis.

Onder, a likely Ehlmann opponent in the August Republican primary, has said the charter change was clearly aimed at trying to keep him out of the race. Onder, a physician, has said he’d like to occasionally see patients on Saturday mornings if he is elected executive.

Councilman Mike Elam, R-Dardenne Prairie, who introduced the bill Dec. 20 at Ehlmann’s request, withdrew it last week. He said Monday he had been planning to yank it even before getting Ehlmann’s Dec. 30 email.

“It really just became clear we did not have a bill that had been thought out enough,” he said in an interview.

He added that he believes it’s unlikely the council will take it up again this year.

Ehlmann has denied he was aiming at Onder with his proposal. Instead, he said he made his proposal in reaction to the St. Louis County Council’s Dec. 7 vote to put a no-side-job plan on the April ballot there.

He said county executives in both counties for decades had treated their elected positions as their sole jobs until Sam Page won the job in St. Louis County. While executive, Page, a physician, has worked part time at Mercy Hospital.

“I assumed that, after all the complaining by St. Louis County Republicans about (Page’s) outside employment, no Republican in our county would want to do the same thing,” Ehlmann said in his email to the council. “I was wrong.”

Page, an anesthesiologist, has said his medical work is conducted during his free time during the evening and on weekends and doesn’t interfere with his county duties.

Onder, an allergist, has said he expects to spend at least 50 hours a week on county work if he’s elected executive.

In St. Louis County, the bipartisan council majority has alleged that Page’s part-time work violates an existing charter provision requiring the executive’s “entire time” to be devoted to duties of the office.

The St. Louis County ballot proposal calls for additional wording stating that the executive may hold “no other employment” and also couldn’t work as an independent contractor.

The St. Charles County charter currently says the executive cannot at any time carry on “any trade, occupation, business or enterprise” for personal gain during “normal business hours.” Ehlmann’s proposal would have deleted the phrase “normal business hours.”

Onder and other opponents have complained that the wording is so broad that county executives couldn’t even own a business or farm. Ehlmann has disputed that.

“I spent a lot of time with our lawyers on the language to make sure everyone could easily see it applied to employment by, rather than ownership of, a business,” Ehlmann said in his follow-up email. “I failed. Staff has begun working on better language.”

The council meeting Monday night was the last one before the Jan. 25 deadline for qualifying issues for the April ballot.

Ehlmann said not moving forward now on the issue also would allow the council to consider alternatives such as giving the council authority to approve outside employment for the executive after considering the nature of the job, its location, number of hours involved and potential for conflicts of interest. He said Elam had raised that issue.

Ehlmann said after those and other issues are considered, “if two councilmen, rather than me, want to reintroduce something they can do so” far ahead of a future election.

Originally posted at 1:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 10. 

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