Council Democrats trying to oust Stenger for absenteeism

Pictured above: County Executive Steve Stenger, left, talks to council Chairman Sam Page, D-Creve Coeur, at the Aug. 1, 2018 council meeting. Photo by Jessica Belle Kramer.

By Gloria Lloyd
News Editor
glorialloyd@callnewspapers.com 

Web exclusive update: The County Council voted 4-2 for the resolution Tuesday night – after this article went to press for this week’s print edition. Stay tuned to our website for an updated article.

In a first for St. Louis County, the Democrats on the County Council are asking the Democratic county prosecutor to try to oust the Democratic county executive.

The current council is not one for tradition, and the four Democrats on the council were set to seek the removal of County Executive Steve Stenger from office for missing council meetings with a resolution on the agenda at their meeting Tuesday— after the Call went to press. The resolution asks county Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell, a Democrat, to take out a quo warranto petition against Stenger for allegedly violating the county Charter.

The sponsors of the resolution argue that Stenger already forfeited his office by not following the Charter, the constitution-like document that governs county business.

The Charter states the county executive “shall” attend council meetings, but Stenger argues that since there’s no number of meetings required or no punishment, it only allows him to attend if he wants. He missed nine meetings in a row from November to February, before attending the last three.

The Democratic co-sponsors are Chairman Sam Page, D-Creve Coeur; 5th District Councilwoman Lisa Clancy, D-Maplewood; 1st District Councilwoman Hazel Erby, D-University City; and 4th District Councilwoman Rochelle Walton Gray, D-Black Jack, who is the primary sponsor.

The resolution cites Stenger’s “willful failure” to follow the Charter as a reason that his office may have already been forfeited through the quo warranto process. It issues a “judgment and order” that Bell decide if Stenger has forfeited his office and then either pursue the case himself or step aside so that another county prosecutor or the attorney general can handle it.

Stenger said in a statement, “As members of the council are aware, the resolution is a political stunt that demonstrates poor judgment and has no legal basis or effect. St. Louis County voters elected me by a 20-point margin in November, and I will remain county executive for at least four years. During this time, I encourage the council to set aside pettiness and stop trying to circumvent the will of the people. I urge them to instead work with others and me on behalf of county residents.”

Party lines typically don’t factor into the ongoing battle between Stenger and the bipartisan alliance consisting of both Democrats and Republicans that has opposed him nearly every step of the way in the last two years.

Clancy could not be reached for comment, and Page declined to comment.

But the Republicans on the council — 6th District Councilman Ernie Trakas, R-Oakville; 3rd District Councilman Tim Fitch, R-Fenton; and 7th District Councilman Mark Harder, R-Ballwin — declined to support the resolution because they thought the effort exceeded the council’s authority under the Charter.

The resolution instructs Bell to file a quo warranto petition, without giving him a choice in the matter.

“I’m not sure from a legal standpoint it will withstand scrutiny,” said Trakas, an attorney. “That is not a power the council enjoys, instructing the prosecutor to file a quo warranto petition.”

A March 1 opinion from Associate County Counselor Mike Shuman states that the resolution language takes the Charter’s punishment for council members who don’t show up to meetings and applies it to the county executive, which is “legally incorrect.”