St. Louis County Council overrides Stenger vetoes, escalating battle for power | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis County Council overrides Stenger vetoes, escalating battle for power

Jul 18, 2018

The St. Louis County Council has overridden three more of County Executive Steve Stenger’s vetoes — part of a longstanding fight over power.

But the stakes may be heightened, as the Aug. 7 primary looms.

Council Chairman Sam Page, a fellow Democrat, said after Tuesday’s votes that the members want to hold Stenger accountable.

“And we’re talking about some very serious issues,” Page said. “Should the county executive communicate with the County Council? Should he share information? Should he provide accurate information? Should some of the contracts be reviewed?”

Stenger, who attended Tuesday’s meeting after skipping many for months, said the issue is that the council’s meetings have “basically at this point degenerated into some kind of election-year circus.”

County Port Authority’s future in question

As Page and the council members view it, one of the bills affected by the overrides also dissolves the county Port Authority – which has been a target because of council members' concerns about its handling of a land deal for a planned police station in south St. Louis County.

That bill bars the current seven authority commissioners from continuing to serve because all have expired terms.

Page says the measure calls for Stenger to appoint new members, who then must be confirmed by the council. Until that process is complete, Page says the Port Authority is defunct.

The council has set up a hearing for Tuesday to talk to the deposed Port Authority commissioners.

Stenger said in an interview after the meeting that Page was “delusional.”  The county executive maintained that state law makes clear that the authority’s commissioners remain in office even if their terms are expired. The council’s bill is illegal, even if it overrode his veto, Stenger said.

That episode exemplifies the back-and-forth between Stenger and the council on a number of issues.

The council overrode Stenger’s veto of a bill that would allow it to hire its own attorney to represent the body in a legal fight with Stenger over his refusal to fund extra staff for the county auditor. The auditor, Mark Tucker, is under the council’s control. His staff is not.

Stenger has maintained that Tucker is unqualified and has declined to approve the extra spending to expand his staff.

The third overridden veto involved a proposed charter change – now headed toward the Aug. 7 ballot – that would require those holding or seeking county offices to comply with the campaign donation limits that have been put in place for state and legislative candidates.

Stenger says he supports the measure’s donation limits, which would restrict contributions from individuals to $2,600 per candidate per election. But Stenger objects to another provision in the measure that would expand the council’s oversight of county finances.

Stenger maintains it’s illegal to have two different provisions in a single ballot measure. Page disagrees. A court fight already is underway. It’s unclear if the legal dispute will be resolved before the Aug. 7 election.

Prison nurses have yet to get raises

Meanwhile, Stenger has blocked implementation of an earlier overridden veto that affects close to 60 county workers – primarily nurses – who work at the county Justice Center.

The bill in question called for income from the county’s Proposition P – a sales tax designated for law enforcement – to pay for raises for the prison workers who had been exempted from the extra money awarded earlier to many of their Justice Center colleagues.

Stenger says he supports the raises, but wants the money to come from the county’s Health Department, which employs most of the affected workers.

Page and Council vice chair Hazel Erby said they could not understand why Stenger’s administration has declined to comply with their bill since his veto was overridden.

Stenger was silent Tuesday when Erin Gonzalez, one of the Justice Center workers waiting for her raise, asked the council when she and her colleagues will get their money.

Stenger said in the interview that he has sent two bills to the council that would award the raises through the Health Department, but the council has refused to act. Page said the Health Department doesn’t have the money.

Follow Jo Mannies on Twitter @jmannies