CLAYTON • The St. Louis County Council on Tuesday voted 4-2 on a resolution asking the county’s top prosecutor to look into whether St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger forfeited his office by skipping council meetings in violation of the county charter.
The measure was sponsored by the four Democrats on the council. Democrats Rochelle Walton Gray, Sam Page and Lisa Clancy and Republican Ernie Trakas voted yes. (Democrat Hazel Erby was absent from the vote.) Clancy said she had reservations but “this is a conversation we need to have.”
Republican Mark Harder said he voted no on the resolution because he felt it had weak legal standing and “realistically won’t happen.” But he said he supported the “spirit of the resolution” because of the “dysfunction, lack of leadership and lack of basic management skills from this executive branch.”
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Republican Tim Fitch, the other no vote, said he would have supported the measure if the county charter laid out any penalty for the county executive missing council meetings.
The charter says that if any County Council member is absent from more than four meetings without being excused by resolution of the council, the member’s office is forfeited. The county charter says the county executive “shall” attend the meetings but does not spell out a penalty for failing to attend. The council’s resolution says the penalty for council members “gives guidance as to the standards of judging whether or not the county executive … forfeited his office.”
Gray said “it is the duty of this legislative body to request a clear and concise interpretation of that section of the charter.”
Stenger missed nine straight meetings from mid-November to early February. Since the council started its effort to remove him, he attended four straight, including Tuesday. But Stenger left the meeting after the public comment section and was not present during the vote.
In a text forwarded by a spokesman after the meeting, Stenger said: “This is one in a series of political stunts we’ve seen from a number of elected officials throughout our region. I have no doubt that there will be more. While these political games continue, my focus remains on moving St. Louis forward.”
Asked to clarify what other political stunts he meant, Stenger did not respond.
The resolution asks St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell to file a “quo warranto” suit in St. Louis County if he feels there is probable cause that Stenger forfeited his office.
Sam Alton, Bell’s chief of staff, said last week that his boss was not likely to get involved in an effort that wasn’t about prosecuting criminals. Alton said he had no comment after Tuesday’s council vote.
Trakas said Tuesday he had originally planned to vote no on the resolution because he didn’t think it gave Bell enough discretion, but he said some changes to the resolution filed on Monday satisfied him.
He said in a text after the vote that it was one thing for Bell to opine in advance of the vote but “quite another once the referral has been made. It will be interesting to see how the prosecuting attorney addresses the formal referral.”