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Government, Politics & Issues

St. Louis Council Chair Lisa Clancy On Police, Jail And Trolley

St. Louis County Council Chairwoman Lisa Clancy.
File Photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Lisa Clancy is the new chairwoman of the St. Louis County Council. She talked with St. Louis Public Radio's Julie O'Donoghue about some of the county's challenges.

At 34, Lisa Clancy is the youngest member of the St. Louis County Council and one of its newer members — she only joined the council a year ago. 

Last week, her colleagues unanimously chose her as chairwoman.

A Democrat from Maplewood, Clancy has pushed for more affordable housing resources in the county. She’s also part of the progressive wing of the board, which is controlled by Democrats.

St. Louis Public Radio’s Julie O’Donoghue spoke with Clancy about some of the county’s challenges, including fallout from a police officer’s employment discrimination lawsuit, deaths at the county jail and the Bi-State Development Agency’s interest in taking over the Loop Trolley in University City.

Here are highlights of that conversation:

Julie O’Donoghue: One issue that the county council is dealing with right now is the ramifications of police officer Keith Wildhaber’s lawsuit against the county. Wildhaber is gay, and he successfully sued the county for employment discrimination. In October, a jury sided awarded him $20 million. 

A couple of days after that verdict, you said that you hoped Police Chief Jon Belmar would resign. He hasn’t done that yet. I was wondering if your position is the same or has changed?

Lisa Clancy: My position has not changed that we need significant transformation within the St. Louis County Police Department. 

What has changed since I said that is that we have almost a brand-new slate of folks that serve on the St. Louis County Police Commission. Four out of five of those appointments are brand new. And I’m really excited about the folks that are around that table — the perspective, the voice, the expertise that they bring. And so I’m really going to be leaning on them to paint the way forward within our St. Louis County Police Department.

O’Donoghue: Is it enough that those four people change? Or do other changes have to happen? 

Clancy: I think that the police commission — all five of them — are going to be looking pretty deeply internally in terms of policies, people, culture that can change. There’s a lot of opportunities there. 

I feel very optimistic about some things that the police board is committed to looking into right now and some of the ways that they are going to get there.

O’Donoghue: Would you encourage them to at least look at replacing Chief Belmar?

Clancy: I think they need to look at all aspects of the St. Louis County Police Department, and leadership is certainly one of those aspects. They need to figure out what is most needed now and who is best equipped to lead into what’s most needed right now. There’s a lot of changes that need to happen.

O’Donoghue: I think that case raised some general concerns about the county’s relationship with the LGBTQ community. Is there anything that the county council is considering doing specifically to signal to the LGBTQ community that they are valued?

Clancy: We do have some language that has been codified within St. Louis County ordinance that is our own nondiscrimination ordinance. We need to make sure that applies to all St. Louis County employees. Right now that applies to the majority of St. Louis County employees, but folks that are political appointees actually don’t have that same protection, and that’s something that I would like to see changed.

O’Donoghue: So I wanted to move to another issue from 2019 that’s carrying into 2020, and that’s the county jail. Last year, five people died either when they were in custody in the county jail or shortly after they left the county jail. And the most recent death occurred the day after Christmas. What do you think the county should be doing to improve medical care in the jail?

Clancy: I am confident that there have been some reforms that have taken place over the past six to eight months that instill — honestly instill — more confidence within me about how St. Louis County is evaluating this when it happens ... and about the policies and procedures that we are abiding by when it comes to the care of people in custody within the St. Louis County justice center.

Quite a bit of reforms have happened. We have a new director who comes with a very expansive and positive national reputation of leading similar institutions.

There is quite a bit of information that just is not known. I mean, the medical examiner is still needing to complete an examination to determine the cause of death.

I did feel like the communication happened very swiftly after this happened. I know that all hands were on deck the day this individual was hospitalized and unfortunately passed.

O’Donoghue: The man who died, his cellmate spoke to the Post-Dispatch. And the account that the cellmate gave the newspaper was pretty different from the official account coming from county officials. Do you have any concerns about the discrepancies between those two accounts?

Clancy: Well, I think any time you hear different stories about the same incident, questions are raised. And so, I do have some questions. And I’ve been in close communication with the county executive’s office, with justice center leadership, with folks on the advisory committee, to try to get to the bottom of what happened.

But I know all of those share the same commitment to trying to figure out what happened here and if policies were followed.

O’Donoghue: So Bi-State seems to be exploring taking over the Loop Trolley. How do you feel about that?

Clancy: I am cautious about it. I think the community has pretty unequivocally spoken that they are not in favor of any public money continuing to go towards the Loop Trolley. So, the Loop Trolley might be a fun project; it might be worth exploring continuing it. But I think we need to be careful and sensitive to what that looks like, given the many priorities that exist in our region right now.

And so I would urge Bi-State to continue to operate with thoughtfulness and caution about what the future of the Loop Trolley is and what their role is in it. 

Follow Julie O’Donoghue on Twitter: @jsodonogue

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Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.