St. Louis Recorder of Deeds Sharon Carpenter, the city’s longest-serving current citywide official, is stepping down from office amid a probe into whether she violated the state’s nepotism law.
But Carpenter is expected to seek election to a new term in a few weeks – and she still has the endorsement of Mayor Francis Slay.
The nepotism ban only applies to her current term, which ends in December. It does not bar her from seeking the office again.
Late Friday, Slay issued a statement saying that Carpenter’s chief deputy, Peggy Meeker, would carry out the duties of the office until he names a replacement.
But the mayor made clear that he continues to support Carpenter in the Aug. 5 Democratic primary.
Carpenter, 73, has held office since 1980. She is accused of hiring her great-nephew to do office work for several summers, for which he was paid a total of $12,000. The great-nephew qualifies as a “fourth-degree’’ relative, one that is covered by the ban in state law.
The accusation of nepotism had been leveled by one of her opponents in the Aug. 5 Democratic primary, Ed McFowland.
The city’s circuit attorney’s office said in a statement that any investigation will be moot when Carpenter officially steps down Monday.
In an earlier statement, Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce had explained her office had “conducted an initial review of the applicable law” after receiving McFowland’s complaint. “We determined that there was a legal basis for referring this matter to the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, and we did so on June 27, 2014.”
The police department, which handles investigations for the circuit attorney's office, did not reply to a request for comment.
Slay’s statement was filled with praise for Carpenter. “I have known Sharon Carpenter most of my life,” he wrote. “For more than three decades, and in many ways, Sharon has tried to put the interests of the city first. Her decision today clearly reflects that intention."
Friday night, McFowland made public a letter that he had sent to all of the city's Democratic ward committeemen and committeewomen in which he asked for their support in the primary, including those who already have endorsed Carpenter. He contended that if she wins the primary, it will be "a black eye'' for city Democrats.
Long history in Democratic politics
As city recorder of deeds, Carpenter is the custodian for most public records. Her office was most recently in the news when she recorded the marriage licenses for four same-sex couples who were married by the mayor on June 25.
Over the decades, she has overseen the office's shift into the electronic age, with digital records replacing many of those once filed on paper.
Carpenter first stepped into the job in 1980, when she was appointed by then-Gov. Joe Teasdale following the death of then-Recorder of Deeds William Schulze. (The state law has been changed to allow the mayor to now fill any vacancy in the office.) Carpenter later won a special election to fill out the term, and has handily won re-election ever since.
Carpenter has some of the strongest Democratic political ties in the city. She became involved in St. Louis city politics as a teenager. In 1964, at age 23, she won her first election as the Democratic committeewoman for the city’s 23rd Ward – a post she has held ever since.
The 23rd Ward was long the city’s most powerful, and until a few years ago, it was the home ward for Slay. The mayor’s late father, Francis R. Slay, served for decades as the Democratic committeeman.
Circuit Attorney Joyce also has ties to the 23rd Ward; her mother, Nellene Joyce, served as the ward’s alderman for much of the 1970s and early 1980s -- with Carpenter as the committeewoman.
Carpenter has served as a state and national Democratic committeewoman, headed the city's Democratic Party during part of the 1980s, and has been a delegate to most of the party's presidential conventions over the past three decades.