St. Louis County Executive Sam Page has signed executive orders aimed at beefing up ethics regulations.
It’s part of Page’s continued response to his predecessor Steve Stenger’s resignation and impending incarceration on corruption charges.
Page’s executive orders encourage disclosing public documents that are subject to Sunshine requests and institute a code of ethics for county executive appointees. The Democratic official says that appointees who don’t report instances of corruption could face termination.
Page signed the orders at the same desk that Stenger used. The former county executive is heading to federal prison in South Dakota soon, after pleading guilty to corruption charges.
“My administration is confident that good government is a reality,” Page said. “We strive to do better every day moving beyond the clean up and destruction from a power-hungry, prison-bound man.”
Page said previous open-records requests that yielded records with personal information were automatically rejected.
“And by favoring disclosure over closure, we’ll have to look closely at records and make sure we’re redacting personal information — health records and information from employee files that are protected by law,” Page said. “And that’s going to take a little more work. In the past, any document that was requested, any piece of that information — the Sunshine request was refused.”
Page also wants the county council to pass a bill stopping bidders from contacting county officials while the contracting process is underway. He’s dubbed that idea the “cone of silence” legislation.
The executive orders are coming about as St. Louis County’s charter commission is holding town halls. One of the ideas floated is having a county manager who would run the day-to-day operations of county government.
"The professional manager is sworn to a code of ethics and not only reports to the county executive but also reports to the council," said Colleen Wasinger, a member of the charter commission. "So it's a shared governance in terms of reporting to all elected officials instead of just one. It distributes the power among more than just the county executive — and largely the elected officials would not be able to interfere with the day-to-day operations of county government."
Asked about that idea, Page said city managers have an important role in municipalities — but added cities “have a different role in government than the county does or state government.”
“The people in charge of procurement are merit employees currently,” Page said. “They are protecting from being voted out of office by a council or being removed from office from an executive. And I think what I’ve seen in county government since I’ve got here is there are a lot of merit employees who resisted the corruption of the Stenger administration. And I’m less concerned with the title of individuals, whether it’s county manager or procurement officer or director of administrator of budget director.
“I’m more concerned that they are protected from political retribution and they are allowed to do their job within the merit system so that they can’t be fired if they’re serving at the pleasure of elected officials,” he added.
Any attempt to install a county manager would almost certainly need to go to a countywide vote. The charter commission’s first town hall is on Wednesday night in the St. Louis County Council chambers. Wasinger said the charter commission may start voting to place ideas on the ballot in October — including installing a county manager, making county offices nonpartisan positions and having the county auditor be an elected position.
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