The St. Louis County Council is again planning to ask voters for its own lawyer so the council does not have to rely on the county counselor for legal representation.
Council Chairman Sam Page says the body often gets poor legal advice because Counselor Peter Krane reports to County Executive Steve Stenger.
The council voted 6-1 Thursday to approve a proposed charter change that would go before county voters in April. Voters narrowly rejected a proposal last summer that would have allowed the council to hire its own lawyer.
This time, the council will ask voters to require the counselor to appoint a staff lawyer to solely represent the council, and another to serve county judges. In effect, the county counselor’s office would have three divisions. The third would represent Stenger and his administration.
Page says he sees the proposal as “a compromise’’ that could win voter support and resolve the crux of the council’s legal dispute with Stenger. Both officials are Democrats.
“When the executive branch and the legislative branch disagree, it’s impossible to represent both of those interests at the same time,” Page said.
But new councilman Tim Fitch, a Republican, contended the ballot proposal – as worded – appears pointless.
“It makes no sense to split the County Counselor’s office into three divisions if their ultimate boss is the County Counselor,” Fitch said.
Fitch also cast the only “no” vote on a related measure. The council voted to override Stenger’s veto of its contract with the law firm of Bick & Kistner for legal services related to the council’s Ethics Committee probe of some of the county executive’s actions.
Fitch contended that the legal bills were at odds with the voters’ charter-amendment vote last summer against a council lawyer.
Page said the council has the right to hire lawyers for specific issues; Stenger disagrees, which is why he vetoed the contract.
Page, Erby re-elected as council leaders
The council also voted to re-elect Page to a third one-year term as chairman. Fellow Democrat Hazel Erby was re-elected vice chairman.
It’s rare, and may be unprecedented, for the County Council to re-elect the same leaders for three years straight.
Page said the vote reflected the seven-member council’s satisfaction with the duo’s leadership. The council leaders are generally of the majority party, and Democrats hold a 4-3 edge.
Follow Jo Mannies on Twitter: @jmannies