State Rep. Bruce Franks Jr., D-St. Louis, says he is resigning to tend to his mental health and family, which is a nice way of saying he is in a heap of trouble — all of his own making. Franks has always been an inspiring political figure who used his urban experience, personal persuasion and unique form of logic to sway even his conservative legislative colleagues to his side.
But he squandered this precious opportunity by letting himself be lulled into complacency about the limits of his power and privileges. The political world is rife with such sad stories. Just look at the colossal downfall of former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger. Power corrupts those who succumb to its boundless temptations, whether they come from backgrounds of prosperity or poverty and hardship.
Franks’ District 78 constituents put their faith in him to be different and demonstrate that character qualities of grit and perseverance could overcome deprivation to yield political advancement. He owes his supporters a full accounting of the circumstances that led to his resignation announcement on Thursday.
Franks cannot evade the truth: While collecting his salary as a state representative, he also was receiving paychecks for federally supported mentoring work performed on behalf of the St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment, or Slate. He repeatedly filled out and signed weekly time sheets that billed his employer for specific work hours when he could not possibly have been working. Why? Because time-stamped photos, tweets and videos show him leading protests, holding press conferences and being handcuffed and arrested at the times when he was billing for taxpayer-supported work.
Flimsy excuses about not adhering to a 9-to-5 schedule do not explain the clear falsehoods. If he was performing mentoring work at, say, 11 p.m. or 1 a.m., the time sheets should have reflected that truth. They did not.
St. Louis city officials have alluded to a federal investigation involving Slate, while members of the Board of Aldermen have called for their own probe. State Auditor Nicole Galloway says Slate is under audit as part of her ongoing review of city operations. Slate’s embattled executive director, Alice Prince, resigned late last month amid heightened scrutiny of lax management practices.
We had great hopes for Franks, especially in the wake of election-manipulation scandals surrounding his predecessor, former Rep. Penny Hubbard. Franks’ personal experience, having lost a brother among multiple relatives and friends to gun violence, provided conservative lawmakers in Jefferson City with a perspective they probably are rarely exposed to. He inspired. He changed minds and opened hearts to the realities of urban life in St. Louis.
Even if Franks is leaving, that voice needs to return to the House floor. His departure shouldn’t stop others among his constituents from striving to succeed where he failed.