Slay: pension concerns a "smokescreen" for opposition to local control
St. Louis – St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay says fear of accountability - not concern about retirement benefits - is driving opposition by police officers to local control of the city's police department.
The department is currently overseen by a five-person board, four of whom are gubernatorial appointees. As mayor, Slay is automatically the fifth. The system dates back to just after the Civil War.
The current system means no one who is directly accountable to the voters has control of the police department, Slay said during an appearance on St. Louis Public Radio's St. Louis on the Air. And he said the department wants to keep it that way.
"They do not want accountability," he said. "They want to be able to run the department the way they want to. And if they don't want to talk about something, they don't have to talk about something."
Joe Steiger, the vice president of the St. Louis Police Officer's Association, called Slay's allegations completely false, and pointed out that the legislation the mayor supports would put the department under the supervision of the director of public safety - an unelected city official.
"So I don't know that switching that up would change anything other than additional influence politically from people in power at City Hall," he said.
Officials with the department's pension board are also concerned that the mayor wants to gain control of retirement benefits, possibly to help balance the budget. Slay denies that.