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Republicans cry foul as Page hires Walton Gray’s aide for jail job

Republicans cry foul as Page hires Walton Gray’s aide for jail job

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CLAYTON — The legislative assistant for Councilwoman Rochelle Walton Gray, D-4th District, has been hired by County Executive Sam Page’s administration to a patronage position at the county jail.

Tony Weaver Sr., 60, will be working in a community relations position for the Department of Justice Services, said Doug Moore, a spokesman for Page. His salary was set at $82,500 per year, a raise of more than 80% from his $45,406 salary as Walton Gray’s assistant.

Moore said on Monday that Weaver was moving to the justice center but that his start date and salary had not been set. But he did not initially respond to questions about Weaver’s new job description and an explanation of what precipitated a move to the Page administration. After publication of an earlier version of this story, Moore said in an email that among Weaver’s duties would be working with the Justice Services Advisory Board, which plans to hold town hall meetings to garner input from county residents.

Weaver said Tuesday that in the position his “primary focus will be creating and implementing change management strategies internally and externally in the jail.” He said he did not know what his salary was going to be.

Asked whether Page recruited him or if he approached the Page administration for the job, Weaver said it was “a little of both.” But he said a specific job for him was not identified until a few days ago. At first there was a possibility he was going to work as a liaison to the police department, and then in Page’s office working with “constituency related issues.”

He said he had experience working for Boeing and IBM in change management roles from 1995 to 2008, and later managed a doctor’s office.

Two Republican council members, Tim Fitch and Mark Harder, criticized the appointment on Tuesday, saying it looked more like a political move than an administrative one. Weaver is closely associated with a north St. Louis County political committee led by Walton Gray, whose support will be vital to Page as he seeks to retain the county executive position.

Walton Gray’s vote on the council, where Democrats have a 4-3 edge, is also important to the Democratic county executive in an election year as his relationship with the three council Republicans has frayed slightly, although not nearly to the extent of the rancor between former County Executive Steve Stenger and the council.

Fitch, R-3rd District, and Harder, R-7th District, said it seemed to them Page’s appointment of Weaver was no different than how Stenger used patronage jobs to reward his supporters.

Told of the criticism on Tuesday, Weaver ended the conversation. “I’m saying no to that,” he said.

Walton Gray said Weaver had been looking for another opportunity with the county. Told that Republicans on the council had criticized the hiring as political, she said she didn’t know about that.

“He’s been wanting to get something different. He has expertise in other areas and was interested in moving on,” she said.

Walton Gray, a former Democratic member of the state House from 2009 to 2016, was elected to the County Council in 2016, and is the longest-tenured member among the four Democrats who make up the majority on the seven-member council. She was part of the bipartisan voting bloc under Page who maintained a veto-proof check on Stenger’s power for two years until his resignation April 29 amid a pay-to-play scandal. However, she has had an icy relationship with former council member Hazel Erby, whom Page hired into his administration.

As the senior member of the council’s controlling party, Walton Gray is a candidate to take over the influential role of chair when the council elects new officers Jan. 7.

That’s if she can get three other votes: her relationship with the other three Democrats, all of them new to the council this year, is a question mark. She put out feelers to colleagues to gauge support for her as chairman after Page’s ascension, but newcomers Kelli Dunaway, D-2nd District, and Rita Heard Days, D-1st District, said that after a tumultuous spring, they were more comfortable with Ernie Trakas, R-6th District, continuing to lead the council until year’s end.

Walton Gray has a leadership role in the Unified Democratic Township Organization political committee founded by her father, attorney Elbert Walton. And she has signaled early support for Page in his bid to remain county executive, appearing at his announcement last month that he was running for county executive in November 2020.

Weaver has had a long association with the Walton family. He previously worked as a consultant for Northeast fire district when Elbert Walton was its attorney. Weaver and his son, Tony Weaver Jr., have served as Democratic committeemen from north St. Louis County, and were integral to the selection of Democratic candidates for local and state office.

Weaver’s hiring marks the third time Page, the former council chairman, has reached into the council to fill a role in his administration since the council selected him to replace Stenger on April 29. The first was the hiring of Moore, a former Post-Dispatch reporter who had recently been hired as the council’s policy director, to the job of director of communications at a salary of $110,880.

The second was hiring Erby, the council’s vice chair, to a new position of director of diversity, equity and inclusion. She had opposed Page for county executive and was upset that he outmaneuvered her for the position, telling journalists to “stay woke and pay attention.” Instead of taking over the council leadership with a chip on her shoulder, she joined Page’s staff with a $120,000 job, increasing her pay sixfold.

Republicans on the council wanted to know why Weaver, and why now.

Fitch said Page “obviously sees some political advantage to placing him there. These are some of the same moves we saw with the Stenger administration.”

Harder said if the job was important, it should have been opened up to competition “to get the best person for the job that you are trying to accomplish.”

Councilman Ernie Trakas said Weaver had told him several days ago that he was going to work in a role to help the St. Louis County Police Department with minority recruiting. He emphasized that he was sure that Weaver told him his new role was with the police, and said he was surprised to hear that he was going to the jail instead.

Harder said that “after being here for five years, you get a little jaded about these types of arrangements. We’ve seen many of them come to pass for people who have been promoted and put into positions they had no business being in to start with, either because of their lack of experience or their lack of knowledge in the field.”

The county executive traditionally has about two “non-merit” positions for each department of county government to use for political appointments. Those positions are not subject to the system of personnel administration for the appointment of employees on the system of merit through competitive evaluation.

After he took office in 2015, Stenger appointed two “special projects coordinators” in the Department of Justice services: One was Sean Rhode, the brother of his campaign organizer Ed Rhode. The other was Lou Aboussie, a former special assistant to U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-University City, who had endorsed Stenger in the 2014 general election.

Rhode remains in the job, making an annual salary of $90,002. Aboussie said earlier this year that under Stenger, he switched to the parks department after a personality conflict with justice staffers who did not like having a political appointees on their staff. His employment with the county ended shortly after Page took office. His salary had been listed at $75,005.

Weaver was Walton Gray’s appointee to the Charter Commission, a 14-member group that has spent the year studying possible changes to the county charter. In November, the commission took up a proposal to end “non-merit” executive assistants and secretaries for department heads.

Weaver was one of nine commission members to vote no, and the measure failed.

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