Dooley, Stenger continue to spar over ’12 budget

By MIKE ANTHONY

Executive Editor

County Council Chairman Steve Stenger and County Executive Charlie Dooley continue to spar over Dooley’s recommended 2012 budget for the county.

Stenger, a Democrat from Affton who represents the 6th District, recently appointed a Special Budget Committee to review Dooley’s proposed 2012 budget.

During the committee’s second meeting last week, Dooley contended that Stenger’s position as council chairman did not provide him with the necessary knowledge to question the county executive’s recommended budget.

“… Let me tell you something, being the chairman of the County Council does not give you the knowledge of a county budget in any one year. It’s impossible. I’ve been a chairman before. You can’t know what you need to know — you just can’t …,” Dooley, a Democrat, told Stenger at the beginning of the committee’s Nov. 29 meeting.

During an interview, Stenger noted Dooley did not attend the committee’s first meeting on Nov. 21 and used the panel’s second meeting as a platform to attack him.

“I think that was all part of him trying to change the direction of this debate because he feels that he’s losing and it’s not to me,” Stenger told the Call. “He feels attacked, but he’s not being attacked by me. He’s essentially being attacked by reality — the reality of this situation that no one’s going to support this ill-conceived plan. I mean it’s just not going to happen.”

The county executive’s recommended budget for 2012 calls for the closing of 23 county parks, eliminating 175 jobs and not plowing streets in unincorporated areas of snow when accumulations are 2 inches or less, among other things.

South county parks targeted for closing are Bohrer Park, Black Forest and Ohlendorf. In addition, the Kennedy Re-creation Complex pool would be closed.

Dooley and Stenger continued to clash over remarks Stenger made on a radio show Nov. 30.

During an interview with Mark Reardon on KMOX, Reardon noted that Stenger is an attorney and certified public accountant. He then asked Stenger what kind of background Dooley had “specific to the budget.”

Stenger replied, “I don’t think that there’s an educational background. I think Charlie graduated from high school. I don’t think he has any specialized training in accounting or anything.”

The next day, Dooley issued a press release expressing his “outrage” and stating that Stenger owed an apology to the people of St. Louis County.

“I am deeply disappointed and saddened by the insulting and insensitive remarks of County Council Chair Steve Stenger Wednesday on the ‘Mark Reardon Show,”’ Dooley stated in the release. “In trying to insult me, Mr. Stenger demeaned and insulted the people of St. Louis County — many of whom do not have a college degree.

“I am confident and secure in my own ability. I have been elected countywide three times; I have nine years’ experience preparing and implementing balanced budgets. St. Louis County has a Triple A credit rating — the best you can possibly have. My outrage is not for me — it is for the thousands of decent, hard-working men and women without a college education who make valuable contributions and lead this community and this country every day.

“What Mr. Stenger also fails to recognize is he has insulted a whole group of individuals who, without a college degree, worked and scraped and saved to put their children through school — and they didn’t do it so those children could then turn around and insult the very people who made their success possible,” Dooley stated, adding Stenger “owes the people of St. Louis County an apology.”

No apology will be forthcoming, Stenger told the Call.

“I don’t think there’s an apology warranted. I certainly said nothing that was offensive,” he said. “I don’t think that any reasonable-minded person would take what I said as an insult and particularly given my background, which is I’m the son of a union telephone man who had a high school education and put four kids through school with his job and with that high school education.

“My late mother had a high school education and I loved her and respected her and I’ll tell you, over the years I took a lot of advice from those two individuals. And I’d say three-quarters of my family have high school diplomas and I love all of them. I respect them and I take advice from them and we discuss things. And we have relationships that are deep. So I’m insulted by his (Dooley’s) suggestion that I would be so shallow as to essentially to think less of him or even infer that he’s less of a person because he doesn’t have a college degree.

“I mean that is just insulting to me.”

In his remarks to Reardon, Stenger told the Call, “… I even added that he doesn’t have any additional accounting training because that’s what we were talking about. Charlie’s trying to change the direction of the debate, and the debate really isn’t much of a debate because I think 99.999 percent of the people in the county and probably on the planet are not in favor of closing one-half of St. Louis County’s parks.”

The council chairman also found the manner in which he received a copy of Dooley’s press release “troubling.”

“… What was troubling to me is I was meeting with our county auditor — and this is true — I was meeting with our county auditor and I was in his office developing my cost-cutting proposals,” Stenger said. “While I’m in that meeting working for the people of the county and my district, I received his (Dooley’s) press release … One of his staff members slid the press release under the door where the auditor and I were working together … We received it slid under the door by a county employee and it was a paper version of it that Charlie’s office circulated around the county to further, I guess, in a way defame me, which frankly I’ll wear that badge …

… We’re all trying to work together to get something done. We’re all trying to convince the administration to give us a revised budget proposal — one that does not include closing down half the parks. If Charlie’s budget doesn’t get approved, this is probably and I haven’t done the historical work on this, but he is probably the first county executive who will have his budget fail before the council,” he said. “So this is a very big deal for Charlie … The budget is the vision. The budget sets the priorities for the vision. His budget, his vision is going to be turned down and it’s not only turned down by this council, it is turned down by the whole county.

“Like I said, I think 99.999 percent of the population of St. Louis County would say that closing one-half of the parks is not the answer to any perceived, believed or alleged crisis. It’s not.”