St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner told the city’s budget committee Thursday that her decision to charge Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens with two felonies did not take away from her office’s ability to fight violent crime.
Gardner was the final city department head to speak to the Ways and Means committee, which will start making changes to the next year's $1.1 billion budget on Monday. It must get final approval by June 30.
Gardner charged Greitens with invasion of privacy for allegedly taking a semi-nude photo without the permission of the woman with whom he had an affair, and computer tampering for allegedly using a list of donors to his charity, The Mission Continues, for his campaign.
She dropped the invasion of privacy charge 17 days ago, after St. Louis Circuit Judge Rex Burlison granted a defense request to call her as a witness after allegations of investigative misconduct. On Wednesday, she announced she would dismiss the computer tampering charge in return for Greitens resigning.
Gardner told a skeptical Alderman Joe Vaccaro, D-23rd Ward, that her office has spent a total of $65,000 on the cases combined, although more bills are still coming in. The total could top six figures.
“I don’t feel like we wasted our money,” she said. “And if you look at what the governor said, he spent over a million dollars, and he had high-powered lawyers, six at a time.”
Vaccaro demanded an exact accounting of how the money was spent, something Gardner said she would provide.
Gardner said the two high-profile cases did not take away from the office’s ability to fight violent crime. She handled the Greitens prosecutions herself, along with other higher-level employees.
“The day-to-day prosecutors were allowed to focus on their jobs, the everyday working of the office did not suffer, and actually we issued more cases during this time,” she said, making a comparison to the same time period last year.
Gardner also asked aldermen to shift the source of funding for a diversion program for non-violent defendants from a public safety sales tax approved in November to the city’s general fund. She received one-time funding last June to cover the cost of keeping those defendants out of prison — the money helped her office supervise the defendants and provide them with some mental health care.
Gardner had planned to use the entirety of the sales tax money to cover raises for her employees.
“The CAO must have these salary adjustments to prevent our current staff from leaving and to allow sufficient salary increases to recruit and hire new attorneys,” she said.
Gardner said her office is down seven prosecutors, and that new hires in her office make as little as $40,000 a year. When at full staff, the office has at least 45 prosecutors.
Sheriff: Certification could help with funding
Also on Thursday, Sheriff Vernon Betts told aldermen that he needs 15 additional deputies to be fully staffed.
The office is currently funded for 160 deputies, Betts said. The department is short eight deputies, with 152 positions filled.
“With the number of deputies that I now have, whenever I have these critical things come up, or people call off, people on vacation, it puts me at a point where the guys that are at work, we have to work them some exorbitant hours,” Betts said. He said the sheriff’s office doesn’t have the money to pay overtime.
Missouri lawmakers have sent Greitens legislation that makes the sheriff’s office a law enforcement agency. That allows the department to apply for state and federal grants, Betts said, which could help with some of the funding issues.
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