This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 20, 2011 - The St. Louis Police Officers Association elected a president last week who has spoken out against ending state control of the city's police department. But the association's business manager said he doesn't expect the development to affect pending "local control" legislation.
The association elected David Bonenberger to lead the agency over incumbent President Tom Walsh. The election comes as the General Assembly is considering legislation to end Missouri's Civil War-era control of St. Louis' Police Department.
The association had been a long-time opponent of the "local control" bill. But it came on board after an agreement was struck to have collective bargaining if the legislature passes a bill ending state control.
While that bill easily passed the House in the special session, the association's election was used as a reason last week not to vote legislation out of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. State Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, a University City Democrat who has been a critic of the effort to end state control, successfully lobbied for the delay.
Bonenberger, a sergeant in the police department, had spoken out against the end of state control in the association's newsletter. Among other things, Bonenberger wrote he would refuse to "roll over and simply hand control of the department over to the city."
"We are in a time of crisis with the realization that local control is inevitable," Bonenberger wrote. "I am not one who is quick to compromise. However, I realize there may be a need to find common ground with regard to legislation that will provide control of the SLMPD to the city rather than lose control to the city by one of the current initiative petitions."
But in an interview with the Beacon, Bonenberger declined to comment on the pending legislation.
"To be perfectly honest with you, I don't take my seat until Nov. 1," Bonenberger said. "And I would rather not comment on anything that's pending in legislation right now. Tom Walsh is still the president of the police association. And I just don't have any comments on that right now."
Asked what he would do in the interim period, Bonenberger said he "would go whatever direction the association goes. I'm just going to wait" until he takes office.
When asked what factors played a role in his election victory, Bonenberger said, "because more people voted for me than Mr. Walsh."
Jeff Roorda, business manager for the STLPOA, said it was "extraordinarily" rare for president of the association to serve consecutive terms. Roorda said he didn't expect the election to affect the trajectory of the local-control legislation.
"We're still on path for that legislation being passed in special session," he said. "Dave Bonenberger has some concerns that we're working with him to address."
Asked if the "local control" issue played a role in the election, Roorda said, "He said he's against it, as has everybody on the executive board."
"We've said 'we're against local control, but we think it's inevitable and we think the compromise that's being offered is the best option for protecting the pension benefits in Chapter 86 and the other benefits in Chapter 84,'" Roorda said. "And that's exactly what Bonenberger goes on to say in his statement in the police officers' newsletter."
"I don't think his position is different from any other board members," Roorda continued. "They've all said if we'd have our druthers we'd still have state control. But given the ballot initiative and the inevitability of the thing, we're going to do the most that we can for our members."
Roorda also noted that it is against the association's bylaws to speak out against official positions of the association.
The legislation still needs to pass the Senate to get to Gov. Jay Nixon's desk.
And as for his goals in the presidency, Bonenberger said, "The only goal that I have is to ensure the best collective good for the members of the police association."
Jeff Rainford, chief of staff for St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, said he doesn't thing Bonenberger's election will change the course of local control legislation. That's especially the case, he said, after the association reasserted support for ending state control.
"I think there's a small number of people who don't care if local control is good for police officers or the people of St. Louis," Rainford said. "They're looking to be mischievous. And one of the reasons they've been giving to act out has been taken away from them."
Slay, who has fought for years for local control, said in an interview Monday while he was in Jefferson City that he didn't expect the association's election of new officers to have any effect for the local-control effort.
"I hope not," the mayor said. "This something we have worked long and hard to get."
Jo Mannies, Beacon political reporter, contributed some information for this article.
Jason Rosenbaum, a freelance writer in St. Louis, covers state government and politics.