On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh talked with St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger.
The conversation touched on the state of the county and recent news concerning the region, including the St. Louis County Council’s attempt to remove him from office, the potential city-county merger and the possible privatization of St. Louis Lambert International Airport.
Six of the exchanges during the interview were as follows.
Why aren't you attending county council meetings?
I do attend council meetings. I don't attend every council meeting, nor am I required to attend every council meeting. My job is a job that is much broader than the county council. I'm not a county council member; I attend meetings in more of a ceremonial role. The charter certainly allows me to be at the meetings but I do not vote – so it's not as if I'm missing votes like a member of Congress … my job requires me to work probably anywhere from 70 to 80 hours a week, and I'm oftentimes busy all day and into the evening. So if I'm not at a council meeting, I'm quite literally doing something else that’s related. And some of the council meetings have been set during the day, and those are extraordinarily difficult for me to attend, and they're often done with fairly short notice.
How would you get along with a council of 33 [members] as a “super mayor” under the Better Together proposal?
This may seem counterintuitive but it's perhaps not: It's more difficult to get along with seven people who have in some cases – not all seven by the way – political axes to grind than it is to work with 33 individuals where there is much more diversity of views and perhaps political persuasion.
Can you clarify allegations that you're a little too cozy with your donors and that there are financial advantages they receive because they donated to your campaign?
The way that our county government is structured, that's really impossible. I make recommendations to the council for contracts that the county has either entered into on a repetitive basis or perhaps new contracts, and the council actually is the body who approves those contracts. So those contracts aren't really anything – once they're in the council's hands – I have any input as to whether the council will approve them or disapprove them. It's not as if the council's not doing its job. The council has many hearings on the various contracts that we have and monitors all of those situations – as they should – and they approve virtually everything that we send down to them for approval.
Diversity is one of the things that you have on your plate … but with Better Together, it seems like diversity could be a victim [and that it would] dilute the African-American role in any mega-government.
That has been the argument of some antagonists of the Better Together proposal, but if you look at what it actually does, it just simply doesn't do that. We would have a council of 33 members that would be the legislative body for the entire metro city, and if you look at what that does –frankly I think it brings actually more opportunities, actually. And if you look at what happens with the municipalities as they become municipal districts, that representation still remains the same; it does not take away from those city councils or those mayors. Now some functions of those local governments change but that representation does not.
Do you think maybe you got on board [for Better Together] too soon?
When I first took office, I wasn't a real fan of Better Together. I was thinking, I think at that time, very parochially, perhaps [because of] the geographic location of where I had represented as a councilman and sort of the attitudes and beliefs of my constituents. And as I began to do the job of county executive, I began to see many of the inequities that we have – particularly with respect to policing. We tried to put together policing standards, and that was met with an absolute wall. In fact, the municipalities sued and had those overturned because the court ruled that the county does not have the ability to establish those standards and over 13 basic standards that you would see really in any institution. It was quite troubling to see that.
So this is a conversation that has either been going on verbally, or it's been a dialogue that has occurred through court cases, and it's been going on for years. So, I think my jumping on board was timely, and it was the result of, on my part, a great deal of reflection and making a considered judgment as to where I think we need to be and where we need to go.
Where are you on the issue of airport privatization?
I don't believe at this point the study has yet begun, but I do believe it needs to be looked at. Our airport suffers from many of the same things that our region suffers from; there's a bit of stagnation and the airport certainly has capacity, and it would be wise to look at every way possible to take advantage of that capacity and have a world-class airport and be a hub once again for major airlines. Mayor [Lyda] Krewson has done a really great job of being open to considering those ideas, and I think those ideas are being considered right now. And I await those studies and what they'll look like and what they'll reveal – because this could be a multi-billion-dollar analysis that needs to be done here.
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Alex Heuer, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Jon Lewis give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.
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