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St. Louis recorder pay bonus bill filed by alderman whose wife works in office

St. Louis recorder pay bonus bill filed by alderman whose wife works in office

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ST. LOUIS • A city alderman introduced a bill on Friday that would create a bonus system for Recorder of Deeds employees — even though the alderman’s wife works in the office that stands to benefit.

The cash bonus provisions were buried in the recorder’s salary bill, sponsored by Ward 23 Alderman Joe Vaccaro. The bill had its first reading on Friday at the Board of Aldermen. It got little notice from the other aldermen and will now head to a committee for debate.

Vaccaro, a Democrat, first defended the move, then pledged to remove himself as the bill’s sponsor after being questioned by the Post-Dispatch after Friday’s meeting.

The bill, written as a standard pay bill, seeks to replace a previous ordinance approved in 2012 that governs Recorder of Deeds Sharon Carpenter’s office, which has drawn questions about its operations over the last year. Carpenter resigned from office last year after violating the state’s nepotism statute, but was returned to office by city voters in the November election.

Records obtained by the Post-Dispatch through state sunshine laws offer a glimpse into the city’s patronage system and show an office stocked with relatives of elected officials.

Vaccaro’s bill would set up a bonus system for those employees and change management classifications.

“The Recorder of Deeds may also establish other bonus, incentive, or reimbursement programs to encourage current employees to attain registration, licensure, certification, or proof of professional mastery when it is deemed to be in the best interest of the Recorder of Deeds, or when such credentials are clearly recognized as adding to the capability of individuals in that area,” the bill states. “Incentives, bonuses, or reimbursements awarded under such programs do not result in an employee being ruled ineligible for bonuses or salary increases permitted under other sections of this pay ordinance.”

It also would establish an “Employee Suggestion Program” that “grants cash and other awards to recognize employee suggestions, which improve Recorder of Deeds office services or operation.”

In addition, the bill would also set rates of pay for “per performance employees,” considered temporary or part-time employees.

Carpenter’s office now employs close relatives of three aldermen, as well as Mayor Francis Slay’s niece.

Carpenter didn’t return requests for comment made to her office.

Within the last few months, Carpenter hired relatives of Aldermen Freeman Bosley Sr. and Beth Murphy to do per performance work, according to documents obtained through Missouri’s open records laws.

Vaccaro’s wife, Crystal, was hired in 2011, according to the documents.

On Friday, when first asked by a reporter about the bill, Alderman Vaccaro said he didn’t see his sponsorship of the bill as a conflict of interest. He later called the reporter and said he would strike his name from the bill as its sponsor and would abstain from voting on it.

“This is just how it works up there,” Vaccaro said. “I did this because these employees have to get paid.”

Vaccaro also filed a bill concerning pay for St. Louis Sheriff’s Department employees.

Vaccaro said his wife was one of the lowest-paid workers in the recorder’s office. Records bear that out: She makes about $31,524 a year. But she could ostensibly be eligible for the new bonuses.

Vaccaro said he would insist that she didn’t benefit.

“She hasn’t benefited,” Vaccaro said. “She’s just happy to have a job.”

Vaccaro said he would now find someone else to sponsor the bill.

“Because of the Post-Dispatch stories, nobody wants to carry the bill,” Vaccaro said. “But someone has to.”

In May, the newspaper revealed that Carpenter requested a $700 monthly car allowance. She had to give up her previous vehicle, in which her husband had two accidents, after she resigned last July for hiring her great-nephew in violation of the state’s nepotism laws. After the November election, she returned to office in January. Carpenter’s resignation and return allows her to collect a $4,238.76 monthly city pension on top of her $97,000 annual salary.

It’s unclear if Carpenter herself would be eligible for bonuses under the proposed system.

Vaccaro said Carpenter’s office had written the pay bill that he had filed.

While maintaining that he will step aside from the process, he questioned whether the mayor could sign it.

“His niece works in the office,” Vaccaro said. “Can he sign the bill?”

Mary Ellen Ponder, Slay’s chief of staff, said on Friday that the mayor hadn’t been involved in writing the bill or in approving it.

“The mayor is not the bill’s sponsor,” Ponder said. “Should aldermen approve it, which I doubt they will in its current form, it would become law with or without his signature.”

Alderman Scott Ogilvie told the Post-Dispatch on Friday that the bill should be scrutinized.

“Government jobs shouldn’t pay bonuses,” he said.

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Nicholas J.C. Pistor is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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