The long-running saga to fill the St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners ended Tuesday when the St. Louis County Council approved Laurie Westfall’s nomination to the board that oversees the St. Louis County Police Department. She is the widow of former St. Louis County Executive Buzz Westfall.
Westfall’s unanimous approval means that the five-member board is now at full strength for the first time in months. That panel had received intense scrutiny after former board member Greg Sansone was awarded a subcontract for the county crime lab.
“They can function like a board. They have all five members — well-qualified people,” said St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley. “They all bring different perspectives from their venues. And I think we have a great board.”
Dooley had been at odds with the council over his nominees to the board. Several of his nominees — including former GOP gubernatorial nominee Dave Spence and Pastor Freddie Clark — withdrew before they could be confirmed. Former Metro CEO Bob Baer’s nomination was rejected outright.
Council members had balked at some of Dooley’s appointments, with some saying that Dooley was trying to stack the board to oust then-Chief Tim Fitch. Dooley strenuously denied those assertions.
But the standoff between the council and Dooley subsided after the council approved former Hazelwood Mayor T.R. Clark’s nomination to the board. Fitch subsequently announced that he was retiring, and the board — which had a quorum with Carr’s approval — was able to pick his replacement. And in February, Lawrence Wooten’s nomination to the board was approved without opposition.
Councilman Mike O’Mara, D-Florissant, said the county “has a good make on the board.” He said now the board can focus on making sure county police officers have comparable pay to their municipal counterparts.
“It really reaches out to all diverse sections of St. Louis County and all regions of St. Louis County,” O’Mara said. “And now it’s time to get back to work.”
Dooley contended that one reason it took so long to fill the board was an ordinance passed last year requiring background checks for nominees for police commissioner.
Even though he signed the measure into law, he has long said that the ordinance was vague and made it harder to recruit nominees.
“For example, it says ‘background checks,’ but what does it mean? Is there a threshold you’re looking for?” Dooley said. “We were given no threshold. So I don’t know what it is they were trying to accomplish.”
O’Mara, who sponsored the background check requirement bill, said that the county police department does background checks for its officers — and the same standard should be applied to commissioners.
“The police actually asked us for that particular ordinance,” O’Mara said. “When you are a commissioner, you are a colonel. You carry a badge. You have certain authorities as a colonel. And what our police officers have to go through as far as backgrounds, it’s the same background check that they have to go through to become a police officer.”