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Government, Politics & Issues

Erby Replaced As Director Of St. Louis County’s Diversity Office

St. Louis County Council member Hazel Erby speaks to reporters after an emergency council meeting Monday night.
Carolina Hidalgo
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Hazel Erby has been replaced as the director of the St. Louis County Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. She is shown here talking to reporters when she was a councilwoman in 2019.

Updated at 4 p.m. Thursday with comments from Erby

A former St. Louis County Council member has been ousted as the leader of the county’s diversity efforts.

Hazel Erby said in a tweet posted Tuesday that County Executive Sam Page told her, “I do not need you on my staff anymore.” She added in a second tweet: “I will not be silent! Blacks are NOT valued in this administration, particularly black women!”

On Thursday, Erby told St. Louis Public Radio that she wasn't surprised that Page dismissed her because there had been tension between the two for some time. She pointed to friction about adequately staffing and funding her office.

"I took the job because ... there's a negative culture in St. Louis County. And you don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure it out," Erby said. "There are things that I think that I did accomplish that would not have been done had I not been there. I'm disappointed because St Louis County government is still in the same place and we've got a leader who says that he cares about it, but he obviously does not. If you do say that you care and you value something, then you put the resources where it needs to be."

On Wednesday during his press briefing, Page told reporters that he called Erby on Tuesday saying, "I would not need her anymore in our department, in our office — and that we’d be moving forward."

"I thanked her for her service to the community. She wanted to be able to say it first. And Twitter is one mechanism to that," Page said. "But I made a statement early on that I don’t have any criticism of her or that department — and I intend to keep that commitment."

Erby represented north St. Louis County until May 2019, when Page appointed her to head the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, making $121,000 a year.

Erby's ascension to the role came just 10 days after she was the lone vote against Page’s elevation from council member to county executive following Steve Stenger’s resignation. Many Black political leaders were upset that Erby wasn't picked as county executive, especially since she had been a consistent critic of Stenger's administration and had more seniority than Page on the council.

At the time of Erby’s appointment, Page said: “Councilwoman Erby has led county government in pursuing equal opportunity for all of our residents. She and I have worked as a team for years, and I’m elated our partnership will continue.”

Erby also said on Thursday there was tension with Page because she didn't outwardly support him for his election bid. She pointed to an ad that one of Page's Democratic primary opponents, Jake Zimmerman, ran that contended that Erby should have become county executive instead of Page.

Erby said Page wanted her to release a statement saying that she supported him. She said she declined to do so, but disputed the idea she was openly supporting Zimmerman.

"I never came out openly supporting anybody," she said.

Page told the St. Louis American that “Hazel told me she was staying out of the election, and I encouraged all of my staff to do the same. And as far as I know they did that.”

She added when she was let go on Tuesday, Page told her, "We just need to part ways." Erby said she replied: "Sam, I'm not resigning."

"And he said, 'Well, we're not going to get anywhere,'" Erby said. "I said, 'Just say what you mean. What is your plan? Where do we go from here?' And then that's when he said, 'I do not need you on my staff on anymore.'"

On June 29, according to St. Louis County Council agendas, Erby submitted communications to Page and the seven members of the council with the subject line, “An Equitable St. Louis County.” A summary of the communications stated that Erby’s office had “received several reports over the past few weeks that highlight a troubling pattern of systemic discrimination and intolerance,” and she asked for funding for an equity audit. The council has not yet acted on that request.

Kenneth Murdock, a vice president of the St. Louis County branch of the NAACP, will be the acting director of diversity. Page said on Wednesday that Erby "was my first choice to be the first director of the department of diversity, equity and inclusion. And I don’t regret that choice."

"Now I’m looking for a more focus in that department and the ability to accomplish even more," Page said. "And I’m excited for what civil rights activist Kenny Murdock can bring to that office. I look forward to hearing his ideas and moving forward."

Murdock’s Facebook page shows a number of posts expressing support for Page, and state ethics records show a relative of his donated $250 to Page’s campaign, although Murdock himself did not donate. Murdock was a campaign staffer in Page's unsuccessful 2008 campaign for lieutenant governor.

Murdock, who is Black, also does anti-bias training for the Anti-Defamation League. Its regional director, Karen Aroesty, said in a statement the ADL looked forward to partnering with Murdock again.

“This appointment will benefit so many residents of St. Louis County, who can be positively impacted by Kenny’s work in diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Aroesty, who also is the chair of the county’s Human Relations Commission. Page appointed Aroesty to the commission in February 2020.

When asked about Erby's comment about how "Blacks are NOT valued in this administration, particularly black women," Page replied: "I can’t respond to all of the wild accusations we just went through. And we’re moving forward."

"I don’t regret Hazel as my first choice to be the leader of the Department of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion," Page said. "And we’re going to move forward with new focus and the opportunity to accomplish even more."

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