It has been six months since St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger took office after winning a close race against Rick Stream. In that time, Stenger has spoken against issues such as reunifying the city and county, the use of county taxes to help pay for a new football stadium and an increase of the minimum wage in St. Louis County.
On Tuesday’s “St. Louis on the Air,” Stenger joined host Don Marsh to discuss those issues, along with his current vision for the region.
Minimum Wage increase for St. Louis County involves “legal impediments”
As the push for a higher minimum wage continues in St. Louis City, Stenger explained that although he does not ethically oppose increasing wages, implementing the move in St. Louis County could not happen due to “legal impediments” that would prevent a countywide minimum wage. St. Louis County government only has authority over the unincorporated areas and very limited power over the municipalities.
“I grew up in a working family, and I continue to be part of a working family,” Stenger explained. “I want to see all of our working families have higher wages, [however] we have a legal impediment in St. Louis County on setting a minimum wage. I think first, it would be prudent to have it studied.”
Despite not considering higher wages, Stenger feels that St. Louis City could still achieve the increase without the County.
Better Together: Consolidating St. Louis City and County
Recently, Stenger removed himself from an ex officio position on the board of directors for Better Together, an organization studying the potential benefits of merging St. Louis City and County. There are 90 municipalities throughout St. Louis County, not including unincorporated areas. Stenger explained that his decision to sever ties with the organization was so that he would not appear to be “just going along with a particular group” because of affiliation.
“It’s a matter of independence,” Stenger said. “I think that it’s really important that the people of St. Louis County have confidence in their leader, so I stepped back [from the position].”
“We have a lot of repairing to do in St. Louis County,” he added. “We have communities that need to be rebuilt, we have relationships within the communities that need built and communities where we need to bridge gaps. The answer to all of that, to me, is not merger. The answer is going to be a comprehensive, strategic approach. St. Louis County has issues that need to be resolved before we begin that merger discussion.”
On his relationship with the African-American community
After the events in Ferguson following the shooting death of Michael Brown, some African-American residents of St. Louis County developed a sort of distrust for Stenger due to campaign support from St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch. Since taking office, Stenger said that his goal has been to focus on mending relationships among his entire region. Part of this includes staying in direct connection with African-American elected officials.
“One of my most valued relationships is with Congressman (Lacy) Clay,” Stenger said. “The reason why we have a Promise Zone in areas of north county and north city is because of his hard work and our work together. It’s exciting to work with someone like him, where we sit down and talk about what’s needed in our community.”
St. Louis County’s Office of Community Empowerment has also worked to engage communities in the region, Stenger explained. The office is responsible for plans such as the Great Streets project. Stenger also said that he meets regularly with members of the Ferguson Commission, the group tasked with addressing community concerns after the unrest in Ferguson.
“I think actions speak louder than any words that I can speak,” Stenger added. “We formed that office to deal with our disadvantaged communities, and we’ve done that.”
Listen to the audio to hear more on other issues Stenger discussed.
St. Louis on the Air discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.