A majority of the St. Louis County Council has filed suit to determine if it has any power to hire employees over the objections of County Executive Steve Stenger.
The suit was filed Monday in St. Louis County Circuit Court. It contends Stenger overstepped his bounds by refusing to hire more staff for county Auditor Mark Tucker.
The council hired Tucker last spring. Stenger contends he’s unqualified. Stenger says the county charter is clear that his administration controls the hiring of personnel — and paying most bills.
The suit asserts that Stenger’s inaction is preventing the council from fulfilling its duties, under the county charter, to audit the financial activities of Stenger’s administration.
The suit states: “This lawsuit seeks to enforce the separation of powers and checks and balances that exist in the county charter, which the executive branch must not deliberately frustrate.”
Stenger replied in a statement that the suit is "wasting St. Louis County taxpayer money," and reaffirmed his objections to Tucker.
Stenger added that he has asked Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway "to conduct a comprehensive audit of the way that St. Louis County and the St. Louis County Council approve and awards contracts."
Galloway's staff sent out a statement Tuesday noting that the County Council will first have to approve a resolution in support of the audit, before Galloway will step in.
Council chairman Sam Page joined three other council members in filing the lawsuit. Stenger says his administration will not pay the lawyers representing the council members. The suit asks the judge to rule that the council has the power to hire and pay an attorney.
Page and Stenger, both Democrats, have been at odds over a number of issues. But both men agree that the suit’s real aim is broader than their dispute over the county auditor. The key issue is the extent of the county executive’s power in hiring and spending.
The council voted 4-3 almost a month ago to pass a resolution calling for the suit. In addition to Stenger, County Counselor Peter Krane is also a defendant in the lawsuit.
Krane issued an opinion several weeks ago stating that the council “has no authority to enter into contracts and no payment authority."
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