CLAYTON (KMOX) — Is St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger threatening the projects and even position of any elected council members who don’t vote with him? That’s the allegation from council chairman Sam Page in a letter he sent to Stenger yesterday.
“These threats include threatening the seat of one Council member, threatening projects and district priorities of several others, and trying to gut the body of the Council as a whole through budgetary tricks,” Page wrote.
He added, in an interview: “We’re just not going to stand for political threats and retribution.”
After obtaining the letter, KMOX News called multiple county council members last night to see if their experiences with the executive branch match the sentiment of Page’s letter. Click the play buttons to hear what the bi-partisan group told us.
Democrat Hazel Erby explains how she thought Stenger had agreed to help her with a community center — until she voted “against what he wanted.”
Republican Colleen Wasinger says two projects in her district were axed after the council made cuts from Stenger’s proposed budget.
Wasinger says she’d like to see policy take priority over politics again.
Republican Ernie Trakas, who’s been on the job for just over a year, says the letter’s mention of Stenger “threatening the seat of one Council member” refers to a recall effort against him.
Trakas also says he’s had difficulty in getting information from departments ahead of decisions like the budget and leases. He promises hearings.
What about the letter’s third accusation, that Stenger and his administration are “trying to gut the body of the Council as a whole through budgetary tricks”? The author, Democrat Sam Page, explains that part.
In his executive order on January 3rd for those rollbacks to the council’s budget, Stenger says the county charter gives him authority to “transfer appropriations.” Flip five pages in, and Stenger notes that he’s taking back the $527,385 of the council’s “increased appropriation.” In other words — the higher budget the council gave itself.
Page says that increase was for the council to hire its own attorney and assistant auditors.
“If the County Council demonstrates to the County Executive the need” for more money, then Stenger “will consider” it, the order concludes.
A statement on behalf of Stenger says “the assertions of Sam Page are absurd. The County Council cut 31 million dollars from county departments. As a natural consequence, pet projects of Council members have to be eliminated because money does not exist to fund those pet projects. “