Calls For Accountability Dominate St. Louis County Council Meeting | St. Louis Public Radio

Calls For Accountability Dominate St. Louis County Council Meeting

Nov 5, 2019

The St. Louis County Council on Tuesday approved two new members of the Board of Police Commissioners — a move activists said doesn’t do enough to improve a culture that fails to punish officer misconduct.

The council also approved funding for outside attorneys to help with a legal response to a nearly $20 million verdict against the county for discrimination. And members called on the city of St. Louis to be more transparent in conversations about privatizing St. Louis Lambert International Airport.

A jury late last month found that St. Louis County Police Sgt. Keith Wildhaber had been passed over for promotions because he is gay, and that the department retaliated against him when he complained.

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page promised “serious change” after the verdict. That included naming new police commissioners, who provide civilian oversight of the department. Former Missouri Supreme Court Judge Ray Price and local attorney Michelle Schwerin were the first to be confirmed. Page plans to name additional candidates to replace the three other members, all of whom are on expired terms.

“I’m happy the council confirmed Ray and Michelle so we can move forward with the beginning of our leadership change, and I hope my colleagues sitting up here with me today will confirm any nominees that I may send in the next few weeks,” Page said Tuesday. “Police department leadership must assure the community that those who are sworn to protect and serve are doing so for everyone in every corner of the county.”

Page’s comments did not sit well with activists who have filled the council chambers for the past few weeks on behalf of Millicent Williams, a 63-year-old black woman who says she was mistreated by a county officer during a traffic stop.

“Mr. Page, you started out in your remarks about the two new members on the board, and you used the words ‘integrity and respect,’” said Queen Ziah Reddick, one of the activists. “As a citizen of St. Louis, and a resident of the county, we are asking that fairness and integrity be given to her. What are you all saying to the community when you allow officers who do display the type of behavior, because actions speak louder than words?"

Attendees of Tuesday's St. Louis County Council meeting stand in support of Millicent Williams (left, in red shirt), 63, who says she was mistreated by a St. Louis County police officer during a traffic stop.
Credit Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio

Reddick and other activists want the officer who pulled over Williams to be fired. Others are calling for Chief Jon Belmar to resign. In a separate interview Tuesday, Belmar said that it was his duty to lead the department through the crisis, and that his mission is to make sure it is better afterward.

Lambert privatization resolution

The council unanimously approved a resolution urging city officials to make more documents about leasing the airport available to the public. They also want residents to be able to cast a nonbinding vote on the possibility.

“This is a regional asset that affects and will impact tens of millions of people,” said Republican Ernie Trakas, the council’s presiding officer and the sponsor of the resolution. “And so somehow the idea that it should be considered for privatization by a cabal of paid consultants who not just seek, but will gain if in fact privatization goes forward, is, in fact, abhorrent.”

A spokesman for Mayor Lyda Krewson said she would not comment without seeing the resolution. But he added that the mayor found it “very interesting that suddenly St. Louis County and others are taking a keen interest in the airport at the same time we are exploring its future, with the possibility the city could get a better airport with millions or billions of dollars in new revenue.”

Though the airport is located entirely in the county, it is owned and operated by the city.

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