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CLAYTON • The St. Louis County Council voted 5-1 Monday to appoint council Chairman Sam Page as county executive.

The move followed the resignation Monday of County Executive Steve Stenger, whose indictment last week on three counts in a federal pay-to-play sting became public earlier in the day. Under the county charter, Page, a Democrat who had represented the 2nd District, will serve as county executive until after the next general election in November 2020.

Page said he wanted to assure residents that “we will have absolutely no tolerance for pay-to-play politics. No tolerance. We will strive to set a new standard for ethical government and we will be open and transparent so you can hold us accountable.”

Council member Rochelle Walton Gray, D-4th District, nominated Page for the position. Council Vice Chairwoman Hazel Erby, D-1st District, who had also been seeking the position, voted against the measure. Page abstained.

Gray said after the meeting that she had not known before the meeting that Erby was interested and that she had given her support to Page first.

The decision to appoint a county executive was unpopular with several members of the County Council audience, who applauded Erby when she asked the council to delay the vote to allow for public comment. The council invites public comment only at regular meetings and public hearings. Paul Berry III, a Republican who lost to Stenger in the general election, stormed out of the meeting, yelling, “I’ll see you in court, Page!”

“How do we take a vote tonight if we don’t have public input?” Erby said before the vote. She said the county had just been through a trauma and needed time to heal before rushing into a vote.

“My heart goes out to our citizens and to our former county executive as well,” she said. “This has not been a joy to me. It’s been sad, and I think our county citizens should be able to weigh in on this.”

Lisa Clancy, D-5th District, said she was disappointed by the Stenger indictment “but I’m also concerned that we do not have a county executive right now and that’s impacting people. I think we need to make a quick decision on this. And I’ve been hearing from people for weeks about whom they would like to see in this position.”

Mark Mantovani, the Ladue businessman who narrowly lost to Stenger in the August Democratic primary, had tried to lobby the council to pick him. His supporters said they were disappointed they did not have more time to make their case. Joan Bray, a former state senator and representative who supported Mantovani, noted that the council had repealed a county code in February effectively streamlining the process the council must take for making hires.

“It’s so they could do this tonight,” she said.

But the Rev. Phillip Duvall, a civil rights activist and frequent speaker at council meetings, said he felt the county had been in a crisis. “Personally, I understand the urgency to have someone fill that seat. Based on the vote count of 5-1, our elected officials spoke, and I have to respect that. The vision and continuity of government must go on outside of personal politics.”

Erby said after the meeting that she didn’t like the maneuvering over the past several days to line up votes for Page, although she would not get into details.

“I just hope we don’t have what we’ve had in the past. And that’s what I saw this week. I saw promises and commitments. You know, you have to be careful about the promises you make.”

Speaking to a group of journalists, she said, “I just ask you all to stay woke and pay attention.”

But Erby said she thought her longtime ally on the council was a “decent person” and that she was optimistic he would do a good job as leader.

By losing Page to the executive branch, the Democrats ceded their 4-3 advantage on the council. The council will remain split until a special election to fill Page’s seat. The majority party gets to appoint the body’s chair and vice chair. With neither party in the majority, it was not immediately clear who would ascend to lead the council.

Page said, “As county executive, I will treat this council with the respect that it deserves. I look forward to working with each of you as we lead St. Louis County through the challenges that lay ahead of us.”

Tim Fitch, R-3rd District, said filling the vacant executive seat could not be delayed because it was “truly an emergency.”

“Any legislation that we pass, any major decision that needs to be made has to have the county executive’s input and signature, and there was no reason to delay it,” Fitch said. “If we would have done this tomorrow night, the outcome will have been the same, in my opinion.”

Page showed his leadership ability in his two terms as the council chairman, Fitch said. Page was also the “most bipartisan” member of the council, Fitch said.

“He didn’t have to include Republicans in many of these discussions, and he always did,” he said. “We didn’t always cast the vote the same way, but I think he was always fair about it.”

St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger pleaded guilty to pay-for-play charges: Some background reading

Here's a collection of Post-Dispatch stories looking at some of the controversies surrounding the St. Louis County Executive.

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