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Mayoral Rivals Spar Over Who Should Negotiate Contracts

(via City of St. Louis websites)

Tensions between the two main Democrats running for mayor of St. Louis were on broad display today during a dispute over who should negotiate contracts with St. Louis city employees.

The dispute took up more than two-thirds of a 35-minute Board of Estimate and Apportionment meeting. It's rooted in a 2010 law - introduced by Stephen Gregali, an ally of Mayor Francis Slay - that gave a mayoral appointee a seat at the table in those contract negotiations. For this round, Slay wanted his new operations chief, Eddie Roth, to fill that role.

The law, which sunsets in 2014, requires that appointee be approved by E&A, on which Slay and aldermanic president Lewis Reed both sit. Reed is challenging Slay in the March primary election. He voted for the legislation initially (see page 6 of the journal), but says it's since proven to be a bad idea.

"Across these last three years,  the only year that we've had that was somewhat competent was that fist year," Reed said. "The last two years, we have not seen fair negotiations, we have not seen the process move forward at all." He said the ordinance was simply a way for the mayor's office to play politics.

Reed also complained that there had been no movement on changes to the ordinance proposed by E&A a year ago. "I'm still waiting for those," he said.

Slay was incredulous that Reed put that blame on his shoulders.

"I served at the Board of Aldermen for 16 years, and I never heard of a time when a mayor could stop an alderman from introducing a bill," he said. "I can't amend ordinances. I can't change them." Reed called that "the craziest thing he's ever heard," pointing to how heavily involved the mayor was involved with controversial changes to firefighter pensions. (Technically, the mayor is correct. He cannot on his own authority introduce or change an ordinance,  but he can certainly find friendly aldermen to carry his water).

Eventually, Slay and comptroller Darlene Green agreed to appoint budget director Paul Payne  as the negotiator.  Reed was also opposed to that, saying there was no way one person could both manage the budget and negotiate. It was a position that Payne took as well.

"I serve at the will of the board of E&A, but it would be difficult," Payne said.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

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