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St. Louis County Council requires auditor be certified, adopts anti-discrimination measures

St. Louis County Council requires auditor be certified, adopts anti-discrimination measures

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St. Louis County Administration Building          rwk

The St. Louis County Administration Building at 41 S. Central Avenue in Clayton, seen here on March 7, 2020 (Post-Dispatch)

CLAYTON — The St. Louis County Council will require that future county auditors have at least one professional certification, a job description change that comes seven months after the state slammed auditor Mark Tucker for providing weak oversight and noted he wasn’t qualified for the position.

The council on Tuesday unanimously passed legislation requiring the auditor, one of the few county offices that reports to the council, be either a certified public accountant, a certified internal auditor, or certified fraud examiner.

The new qualification meets a key recommendation from a September report by Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway that ripped Tucker, a 2017 council appointee, for lax oversight that contributed to abuses by former County Executive Steve Stenger.

The council, the report said, had failed to ensure the auditor was properly qualified for the role and didn’t adequately use the office to investigate concerns. In three years on the job, Tucker produced a total of just five audits, failed to complete other planned audits, and failed to produce audits that met state and industry standards, the report said.

Currently, the county charter requires the auditor to have five years of accounting experience but does not require a degree or certification.

Tucker, a former health care lobbyist, had no prior auditing experience when the council, led by then-Council Chairman Sam Page, appointed him to the auditor position in February 2017 after the county cut ties with former auditor David Makarewicz. Page succeeded Stenger as county executive in 2019. Tucker’s annual salary is $85,010.

The September report prompted long-running discussion among council members about firing Tucker, whose term expired in 2018. The council met last week to discuss replacing him but closed the meeting to the public, citing state laws allowing public governmental bodies to close personally identifiable personnel records and records pertaining to employees. Council members said after the meeting that they would introduce legislation raising qualifications for future applicants for the auditor position. If the council appoints someone new, Tucker, would be replaced by default.

The council introduced the legislation Tuesday, but a copy of the bill did not appear on the agenda for the meeting. The council voted to suspend its normal rules to fast track final approval of the measure. The county clerk’s office provided a copy to the Post-Dispatch on Wednesday.

Council members critical of Page have said they want the auditor to review, in particular, the Page administration’s spending of $173 million in federal COVID-19 aid, as well as provide oversight of a new influx of $193 million from the American Relief Plan Act.

Crown Act

In other action Tuesday, the council voted 6-1 to approve legislation by Councilwomen Rita Heard Days, D-1st District, and Shalonda Webb, D-4th District, that expands a bar against racial discrimination in county government by including hairstyles often worn by Black women as “traits historically associated with race.” The bill is part of a nationwide Crown Act campaign launched in 2019 by groups including the National Urban League that would protect hairstyles including “protective hair, natural and cultural hair textures” and ornaments or headwraps.

Ruth Banks, with the local chapter of the National Council of Negro Women, told the council that bias against certain hairstyles has long affected African Americans in the workplace and at schools.

“We have had to adjust our hairstyle to fit an image of what corporate America deems professional … trying to straighten hair just to fit an image that was not naturally ours,” she said.

Councilman Ernie Trakas, R-6th District, was the sole vote against the legislation, arguing the county charter, the county’s governing document, already provides for such protections.

Trakas and the council’s two other Republicans, Tim Fitch, 3rd District, and Mark Harder, 7th District, voted against a nonbinding resolution by council Democrats that denounced hate and discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, arguing it was unnecessary to single out a specific group for protection.

The resolution followed a mass shooting in Atlanta in March that killed eight people, six of them women of Asian descent. The shooting prompted a wide range of civic groups and government officials to speak out against a steep rise in anti-Asian bigotry since the coronavirus entered the United States last year.

Meanwhile, council Republicans said they want to question Page, who was not present at the meeting, over an executive order he signed April 2 that designates all single-stall restrooms in the county government building in Clayton gender neutral. Page said the order would make the county government more welcoming to transgender or gender non-conforming people.

Fitch said he wants to know if all the restrooms have locks, among other questions. Trakas said the question was “one of those rare occasions where I agree with Councilman Fitch.”

Earnings tax

In other action Tuesday, the council voted 5-2 to adopt a nonbinding resolution rebuking the idea of an earnings tax, after St. Louis Mayor-elect Tishaura Jones suggested that officials extend the city’s 1% earnings tax to the county in an interview with the St. Louis Business Journal last month.

Jones suggested the earnings tax could be implemented by the Board of Freeholders, a city-county panel that is authorized by the state constitution to submit regional governance changes to voters.

Page had endorsed Jones’ mayoral bid, but a spokesman told the Business Journal that the executive did not support a county earnings tax.

The council resolution, by Fitch, “opposed any effort” to implement “any tax in the county” without a direct vote of residents. And it “encouraged” the city to eliminate its earning tax. Fitch asked for copies of the resolution to be sent to Jones, Krewson, and the Board of Alderman.

Councilwomen Lisa Clancy, D-5th District, and Kelli Dunaway, D-2nd District, voted against the measure, arguing it was unnecessary because such a tax would require a county-wide vote.

Updated at 4:40 p.m. Wednesday

Editor’s note: This report has been updated to correct a council vote on legislation barring discrimination against hairstyles worn by Black women.

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Reporter covering breaking news and crime by night. Born in Algeria but grew up in St. Louis. Previously reported for The Associated Press in Jackson, Mississippi and at the Wichita Eagle in Wichita, Kansas.

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