This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 26, 2012 - St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley says that his decision to appoint a new member to the Metropolitan Sewer District Board of Trustees had nothing to do with a simmering debate within the agency about minority hiring.
MSD -- which manages wastewater and storm water for St. Louis and St. Louis County -- announced last year that it would undertake a $4.7 billion plan to settle a federal lawsuit. The consent decree settled litigation over untreated sewage overflowing into waterways after heavy rainfalls.
It also brought a renewed focus on MSD's minority hiring policies.
In December, the MSD Board of Trustees split 3-3 on a resolution altering the agenc's policies toward hiring minorities and women. Among those voting against the measure was Gerald Feldhaus, a retired union official who serves as one of the three appointees from St. Louis County.
The vote killed the measure but not the debate.
The resolution would have stipulated that contracts worth at least $50,000 had to include 25 percent for minority-owned businesses and 5 percent for women-owned businesses. It also would have set goals of 25 percent minority and 6.9 percent women on construction projects greater than $50,000, as well as adding local workforce targets of 25 percent minority and 5 percent women on professional services contracts greater than $50,000.
Dooley announced earlier this month that he had appointed Michael Yates to replace Feldhaus. Yates, an official with the St. Louis branch of the International Union of Operating Engineers, will serve on the board until March 2014.
But Dooley said that the expiration of Feldhaus' appointment -- not his stance during the minority-hiring debate -- was behind the county executive's decision to replace him.
Dooley also said that the appointment may not change the trajectory of the discussions over minority hiring, mainly because of a stipulation within the MSD charter that "an affirmative vote by two members of the board appointed from the city of St. Louis and two members of the board appointed from St. Louis County shall be necessary to pass any ordinance, resolution, regulation, rule, or order."
Only one member of the board from St. Louis City -- James Buford -- voted for the resolution; two were needed. Also supporting the change were two members from St. Louis County: Bob Berry and Eddie Ross Jr.
Dooley Signs Shelter Ordinance
Dooley meanwhile signed into law earlier this month an ordinance stipulating that abused women couldn't be turned away from shelters because of residency.
Advocates for abused women had been speaking out during the council's public forum about a need for the measure in response to reports that the Kathy J. Weinman Center turned away women who were not St. Louis County residents.
Although the County County approved the ordinance, Councilwoman Kathleen Burkett criticized advocates of the bill for engaging in "bullying, intimidation and shame."
Dooley ended up signing the measure Jan. 19. He said after the council meeting last Tuesday that he supported it.
"More than a majority of the council voted for it," Dooley said. "So it can't be overridden -- so why not?"
Jason Rosenbaum, a freelance journalist in St. Louis, covers local and state politics and government.