Council creates new position of policy director, hires veteran journalist

New+5th+District+Councilwoman+Lisa+Clancy%2C+center%2C+listens+to+members+of+the+St.+Louis+Economic+Development+Partnership+board+testify+Jan.+15%2C+2019%2C+along+with+6th+District+Councilman+Ernie+Trakas%2C+left%2C+and+7th+District+Councilman+Mark+Harder.+Photo+by+Erin+Achenbach.

Photo by Erin Achenbach

New 5th District Councilwoman Lisa Clancy, center, listens to members of the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership board testify Jan. 15, 2019, along with 6th District Councilman Ernie Trakas, left, and 7th District Councilman Mark Harder. Photo by Erin Achenbach.

New 5th District Councilwoman Lisa Clancy, center, listens to members of the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership board testify Jan. 15, along with 6th District Councilman Ernie Trakas, left, and 7th District Councilman Mark Harder. Photo by Erin Achenbach.

By Gloria Lloyd
News Editor
glorialloyd@callnewspapers.com 

The St. Louis County Council has long wanted to hire a lawyer, but it just got a policy director instead.

The council held a closed session after its March 12 meeting to hire former St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Doug Moore for the newly created position of policy director, a hybrid role developing policy and dealing with the media.

Council Chairman Sam Page, D-Creve Coeur, said that Moore’s first day on the job will be March 20.

The council voted 4-2-1 along party lines to hire Moore at a salary of $75,000 to $79,000, with “yes” votes from all the Democrats on the council — Page; Lisa Clancy of the 5th District, Hazel Erby of the 1st District and Rochelle Walton Gray of the 4th.

Sam Page

On the Republican side, the “no” votes came from the 3rd District’s Tim Fitch, R-Fenton, and the 7th District’s Mark Harder, R-Ballwin. The 6th District’s Ernie Trakas, R-Oakville, abstained.

“Doug will be an invaluable addition to the County Council’s staff,” Page said in a news release. “His commitment to open and transparent government, his zeal to uncover the truth, his embrace of diversity, and his values of honesty and integrity will serve the council well.”

The position was not publicly posted. A job description provided by the county called the job a “nonpartisan, senior council management position” that serves at the will of the council; and is “responsive to all elected members” of the council and serves under the county clerk, who serves as the administrative director of the council.

The council had not hired someone since a vote two years ago to fire the county auditor and hire current Auditor Mark Tucker.

Duties of the new position include approaching the county budget strategically; identifying “emergent issues”; collaborating with the executive branch for “positive working relationships” and to “resolve conflicts between staff”; guide the legislative process; and “establish and prepare communications for the public and the media on issues” related to the council.

Although the job description doesn’t explicitly say it, council members have said for the last two years that they want more staffers in order to counter the power of County Executive Steve Stenger.

Lisa Clancy

Stenger declined to comment on the council’s new position.

Moore won numerous awards as a journalist. He was a 19-year veteran of the Post-Dispatch and retired in a buyout March 8, the newspaper said of his hiring. His latest role at the newspaper was serving as diversity and demographics reporter, but he had previously served as City Hall reporter and general assignment reporter.

“It’s official: The next chapter after a P-D buyout,” Moore posted to Facebook March 13. “Thanks to the St. Louis County Council for the opportunity. It’s going to be exciting.”

Moore has at times covered county politics, but most recently centered on city politics, with some of his last work at the Post-Dispatch focusing on the race for president of the Board of Aldermen ultimately won by incumbent Lewis Reed.

A press release prepared by Page’s office said Moore holds a “new position responsible for managing policy initiatives, oversight investigations, and other priorities of the County Council. The policy director will also serve as a leader among the council’s staff and will assist, on a day-to-day basis, the council members’ assistants to help them serve council members effectively.”

Page said in the news release that the new position was needed because the council operates with a “skeleton staff” compared to its “co-equal” arms of the county, the executive and judicial branches.

Page said, “Recent experiences have underscored the council’s need for more professional staff like a policy director.”

He later added in a text to the Call that the position is needed to “sort truth from fiction,” such as with the Northwest Plaza lease, the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership and the Port Authority.

Clancy said that after the second year of budget battles between the council and Stenger last year, the council needed someone like Moore on staff.

“With the budget last year and with the sort of increased  authority that the council has, we needed some increased capacity, which comes down to having more staff, particularly around oversight with the budget and communications — it’s where we feel we have the biggest need,” Clancy said.

The vote

Trakas said he abstained because while he thinks the council needs more staff, he wasn’t sure the vote needed to happen the night it was first discussed. And he wanted an overview of what positions the council wants to hire.

Ernie Trakas

“I think the council needs additional staff, without question, I’ve thought that for a long time,” Trakas said. “Especially this council, who is I think fair to say heavily engaged in trying to act as a real check and balance as a legislative body should.”

Trakas met with Moore ahead of the vote and “found him to be very competent.”

The councilman said he had heard discussions about potentially creating the job for several weeks around the council Chambers, but never knew of a single name connected with those talks until just before the vote on Moore.

But with the limited-time opportunity presented by the buyout from Post-Dispatch owner Lee Enterprises, Clancy said the council had to jump before Moore was snapped up somewhere else.

“Sometimes you find someone that’s good and figure out where to fit them in because you don’t want them to get away,” she said.

Fitch, who along with Clancy just joined the council Jan. 1, said he only learned about hiring Moore for the new job the weekend of March 9, when Page texted him to meet with Moore.

Fitch believed Moore was writing his own job description and said, “Only in government would you hire somebody and then after you hire them, ‘Tell me what you’re going to do.’”

But Page said the council talked about the position for a year and a half before hiring Moore.

“This is not a new idea,” he said, adding, “It is accurate to say Tim Fitch did not see the job description. It is not accurate to say that there was not one…. We all know what the policy director needs to do.”

The Republicans, particularly Harder, asked why the hiring had to happen the first time it was proposed, Fitch and Trakas said.

“The Democrats weren’t willing to wait,” Fitch said. “What’s the hurry?”

Fitch said one of his major problems with the new position is its focus on dealing with the media. He notes that council members often have wildly divergent views on issues, which makes it difficult to present one narrative about legislation to the public or reporters.

Tim Fitch

As an example, Fitch brought up his pending legislation to allow bow hunting of deer in county parks, which has some support and some opposition.

“So if the media comes to you, Doug Moore, and says what say you about this deer bill, do you give the Democrats’ side or the Republicans’ side?” Fitch said. “People want to hear what the person they voted for has to say about it, they don’t want to hear some spokesman. I don’t need anybody to speak for me. I dealt with the media every day for a lot of years. I don’t need anyone directing my message or crafting my message.”

And although Moore is a “very nice man, a very professional man,” Fitch said he asked Moore how many actual policies he’d written. At that time, it wasn’t any.

But Clancy felt that decades as a reporter digging into government issues matches Moore with what the council wants from the position.

“Given the experience that Doug Moore has reporting on these issues and digging into these issues, we felt that would translate well,” she said. “He’s going to be doing some real nuts-and-bolts policy work. The budget is a policy document, for example. I think he’s going to add to the council’s ability to provide oversight.”

Moore’s background covering city government should translate to developing policy in the county, Trakas agreed. The 6th District councilman said he likes the “media management” aspect of the position and thinks that with Moore’s background, “he’ll be able to assist the council as a whole in articulating its positions.”

To show how Moore might work with the media, Trakas gave two examples: On something the council as a whole has weighed in on, like the Charter amendment on the ballot Tuesday, April 2, “at that point I think the communications could come through Doug Moore.” Fitch voted against overriding Stenger’s veto of that amendment.

But on something involving an individual council member, such as a zoning hearing in the 6th District, the individual council member would still talk to the media, Trakas said.

Genesis of new role

When Gray took office in January 2017, she started lobbying for a legislative director for the council, which she and other council members originally envisioned as a lawyer.

After pushback from Stenger that the county Charter only allows one lawyer for county government in the county counselor, the council started suggesting that the legislative director would not have to be an attorney.

No members had lately mentioned publicly that they were considering actually hiring someone. But the council’s lawsuit versus Stenger successfully fought for funding for possible positions, and the council passed legislation outlining the process.