Discord becoming the norm at County Council meetings

Dooley calls Sullivan a liar; tells him to take his ‘little short pants’ and ‘sit down’

By Gloria Lloyd

Those who believed the County Council would settle back to normal after last month’s strife over diversity bills once County Executive Charlie Dooley issued an executive order making the rejected bills law anyway were mistaken.

Last week’s County Council meeting kicked off with a senior county adviser to Dooley, Mike Jones, telling 6th District Councilman Steve Stenger, D-Affton, that he would “kill a hyena” when he saw Stenger at the council’s next meeting and ended with an altercation between Dooley and longtime 7th District Councilman Greg Quinn, R-Ballwin, that nearly turned physical.

In between, Dooley commented on a county resident’s attire and called him a liar, Chairwoman Hazel Erby, D-University City, said she suspected a Sunshine Law violation by all the other council members, the council voted to override Dooley’s executive order with more pro-union diversity bills, and everyone who voted against a county diversity office a few weeks ago voted for it while the bill’s sponsor, Erby, voted against it in protest.

After the June 24meeting, Quinn told the Call he had never seen anything like the discord of the previous hour in his 24 years on the council. When he retires in January, he will set the record for serving on the council longer than anyone ever has.

“The county executive is out of control,” he said. “He just came up to me after the meeting and started yelling at me … He was essentially calling me names, saying I was full of something that I can’t repeat on the air.”

Jones, who also serves as vice president of the State Board of Education, set the tone for the meeting early by coming out swinging against Stenger, who requested a meeting to see if the $77 million surplus in the county Children’s Service Fund could be used to help the children of the unaccredited Normandy School District, which the state board voted to take over as the Normandy Schools Collaborative as of July 1.

“In your entire worthless political life, you have never spoken to any issue that affects black children, black adults in any shape, form or fashion,” Jones told Stenger.

“I am almost speechless that you would think that I would let a political zero like you use black children to benefit (your) personal political agenda. That’s not gonna happen,” he added. “So next week you’re gonna have your Committee of the Whole meeting. It’s gonna be me and you.

“You’ll get your Committee of the Whole meeting, and I get a chance to kill a hyena,” said Jones, who has served on the State Board of Education since early 2011.

In an interview last month with the St. Louis American, Jones used a metaphor of lions and hyenas to frame the problems facing Normandy.

In the wild, lion cubs have to learn how to kill hyenas as a survival tool before they can focus on other things, and in the interview Jones compared the “structural barriers” that face children in Normandy to hyenas.

In the absence of that context, though, Stenger told the Call he interpreted Jones’ comment as a veiled threat.

“He said that he was going to come to the Committee of the Whole meeting and ‘kill that hyena’ — he called me a hyena,” Stenger said. “Why that (suggestion on Normandy) would make Mike Jones so angry, I’m not really sure.

“I can’t answer that. But it certainly made him angry.”

The council meeting ended with a crowd gathering around taking pictures of Dooley as he went toe-to-toe and jabbed his finger at Quinn. The altercation ended when Dooley’s security guard put his hand on Dooley’s shoulder.

In between those incidents, the council met. The Stenger-aligned majority on the council voted 5-1 to give preliminary approval to 4th District Councilman Michael O’Mara’s more union-centered diversity bills that override Dooley’s executive order on minority requirements for county contracts.

When Dooley went up to Quinn after the meeting, he was reacting to a vote Quinn had just taken to approve a county diversity office, a bill that Quinn voted against a few weeks ago.

All the members of the council who voted against the office reversed their vote to vote in favor of it, approving it 5-1. The council had rejected it June 3 4-2, with only Stenger and Erby voting for it.

Last week, however, Erby voted against her own bill to protest that the rest of the council would not let her drop the bill from the agenda because, she said, it was no longer necessary after Dooley’s executive order.

After she tried to drop the bill, the other council members protested, arguing that they wanted a vote on dropping the bill.

Stenger and O’Mara appealed to County Counselor Pat Redington, who ruled in Erby’s favor but backtracked when a legislative assistant printed out the council’s rules and handed them to her.

Erby said since the other council members have appeared to know how the other members were going to vote before all the votes on her diversity bills, she suspects that they are polling each other or meeting outside of the council’s public meetings, both of which are illegal under the Missouri Open Meetings and Records Act, or the Sunshine Law — a charge Stenger denied to the Call.

During a period for public comment, University City resident and longtime community activist Tom Sullivan read quotes from the late Lottie Williams, then-mayor of Velda City, who alleged that Dooley had not supported a majority black council district before he ran for the seat and won it himself to become the first black council member. Sullivan also read a passage from former Rep. William Clay’s book along the same lines.

“I normally don’t say this, but I’m going to call you a liar — I’m going to call you a liar in front of everybody,” Dooley told Sullivan.

“You can call me whatever you want to,” Sullivan replied. “I quoted from Bill Clay’s book.”

Eventually, Dooley told Sullivan, who was wearing shorts, “Take your little short pants and go sit down in the chair over there.”

Dooley attributed all the events of the night to the Aug. 5 Democratic primary for county executive, in which he faces Stenger and Affton resident Ron Levy, but Stenger said even with the upcoming primary, he did not shout back when Dooley shouted at him during the meeting.

“I think the county executive, quite frankly, is sort of acting in a manner where he’s out of control, and I don’t understand exactly where that comes from,” Stenger told the Call. “I’m not angry about anything. We can have differences in opinion and differences in ideas, and that doesn’t have to resort to name calling.”