Democrats took over both leadership roles on the St. Louis County Council on Tuesday night.
The council unanimously selected Lisa Clancy, D-Maplewood, as its chairwoman. Rochelle Walton Gray, D-Black Jack, was selected as vice chair on 4-3 partisan vote, with Democrats’ support and Republican opposition.
Republican Mark Harder, of Ballwin, tried to become vice chair over Walton Gray. He was unable to win the support of any of the four Democrats who make up the majority of the council. They all backed Walton Gray for the job in a later vote.
Clancy, 34, is a relative newcomer to the council. She took office in 2019 after defeating incumbent Pat Dolan in the Democratic primary. She has a master’s degree in social work and recently worked to establish a trust fund aimed at producing more affordable housing in the county.
“My priorities are what the community’s priorities are: economic development, safe communities,” Clancy said in an interview after the vote Tuesday night. “Housing is something I will continue to champion.”
Clancy is interested in doing a review of the council’s internal rules, but she said she will move forward in a collaborative manner with her six colleagues.
Republican Ernie Trakas, of South County, served as head of the council for the past several months in the wake of County Executive Steve Stenger’s resignation and then-Council Chairman’s Sam Page selection to replace Stenger.
Because Democrats hold the majority, they were in position to take over leadership this year. Page, a Democrat, had been chairman for three years until he moved over to become county executive in April.
Both chairman and vice chairman are largely ceremonial positions, but they preside over the meetings and can use the position to advocate for policies they support.
County to spend more trying to settle police discrimination case
The council increased the cap on legal expenses to $225,000 for a private law firm working on a possible settlement in the Keith Wildhaber discrimination lawsuit against the police department.
Wildhaber, then a sergeant, won a $20 million verdict last year after a jury found the police department discriminated against him for being gay.
The county is expected to appeal the verdict and is hoping to settle with Wildhaber, who has since been promoted to lieutenant. The council had already approved $150,000 for Lewis Rice’s representation in the case last year.
“The requested increase results from the volume of materials, complexity and significance of the above matter,” Page wrote when asking the council to approve the additional funds.
Republican Councilman Tim Fitch said he reluctantly supported the allocation after meeting with the county counselor. The county’s legal staff convinced him the money was needed, but Fitch, the county’s former police chief, said he intends to scrutinize future allocations.
“This can’t be a money pit,” he said.
Council approves remaining funding for Bi-State Development
The council unanimously signed off on giving the Bi-State Development Agency the remaining funding it had requested from the county for its annual budget cycle.
Previously, the council had been holding back until Bi-State produced a new security plan for its public transportation system. That plan was presented to the county weeks ago, and the council hasn’t raised any objections to it, said Taulby Roach, Bi-State’s CEO, on Tuesday.
“There’s a complete change in leadership in security on MetroLink and Metrobus,” Roach said.
The amount of additional money released was about $88 million, according to a draft of the Bi-State funding ordinance approved by the council Tuesday night. Bi-State’s total funding from the county for the 2020 budget cycle was estimated to be about $164 million.
The county council may not have raised concerns about Bi-State’s security plan, but two members issued a warning to Roach about taking on the Loop Trolley operations in University City.
Trakas and Harder said they didn’t think anyone on the council would be willing to hand over county funding to resurrect the trolley operation. The council had previously declined a request for funding from the trolley operator directly. Without additional money, the trolley stopped running about a week ago.
“I would urge you, Mr. Roach, to think long and hard before you take that on, because I guarantee you, I will fight with every bit of zeal I have against any proposal you come back to this council with for money for that trolley,” Trakas said.
Roach said he is undertaking a review of the trolley to see if Bi-State could make its operations work.
“I think there is some merit in the trolley, but it has to work,” he said.
In an interview, Trakas said he would fight any effort by Bi-State to have the county pay for 18 additional officers to patrol the MetroLink trains in St. Louis — a proposal that Page supports. Previous estimates indicate the extra officers would cost around $1.8 million. Trakas said Bi-State should either find another funding source for those patrols or ask the city for the additional money.
The additional 18 police officers are not part of the new Bi-State security plan that the council insisted on reviewing before handing over the additional funding Tuesday night. They would be given to Bi-State on top of that new public safety program.
Council approves tracking criminal defendants through smartphone app
The council agreed Tuesday to hire a private firm from the Kansas City area to track criminal defendants using a smartphone app.
eHawk Solutions will provide the app for free to the county criminal justice system for a six-month trial. Neither the county nor criminal defendants enrolled in the program will have to pay for the app, though participants will have to have a smartphone.
State officials are watching the program closely, as they prepare to ramp up a similar electronic monitoring program for people accused of crimes.
The county’s smartphone monitoring program could be the biggest one of its kind in the U.S., according to eHawk. County officials are hoping the program will reduce the local jail population. The app could be used in lieu of assigning bail in some cases, they said.
Some advocates for low-income people are skeptical of the app. The majority of people awaiting trial are not flight risks or dangers to society, said Michael Milton, who manages the Bail Project in the St. Louis region. He said they shouldn’t be subjected to government surveillance, especially if they haven’t been found guilty of a crime.
The county’s contract with eHawk hasn’t been finalized or released to the public.
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