By Gloria Lloyd
The status of the Board of Freeholders that could approve a city-county merger is up in the air after St. Louis County approved its nominees, but the city still hasn’t approved its half of the board.
The County Council approved eight of the nine appointees of County Executive Sam Page Tuesday, although only three were unanimous votes.
Gov. Mike Parson also finally made his appointment, attorney Joseph Blanner of Eureka. Blanner lives in the Jefferson County section of Eureka, which qualifies him for the board since the governor’s appointee can’t be from either St. Louis County or St. Louis city. Blanner practices law at a firm he owns in Town and Country, and is one of the youngest board members.
The council unanimously approved Katy Forand of Sunset Hills, Cheryl Milton Roberts of Bellerive Acres and Fred Searcy of unincorporated North County to the Freeholders board.
But the rest of the county contingent faced some opposition. After facing intense questioning during the Oct. 15 hearing about whether he was truly a political independent or a Democrat in disguise, SSM Health Chief Medical Officer Alex Garza squeaked onto the board in a 4-3 vote.
All three 4-3 votes were split with the council’s four Democrats voting for the freeholders, while the three Republicans rejected them.
Votes for Page’s appointees came from 5th District Councilwoman Lisa Clancy, D-Maplewood; new 2nd District Councilwoman Kelli Dunaway, D-Chesterfield; 4th District Councilwoman Rochelle Walton Gray, D-Black Jack; and new 1st District Councilwoman Rita Days, D-Bel Nor.
The three “nay” votes came from the Republicans: Presiding Officer Ernie Trakas, R-Oakville; 3rd District Councilman Tim Fitch, R-Fenton; and 7th District Councilman Mark Harder, R-Ballwin.
The other two party-line 4-3 votes came for former county executive candidate Mark Mantovani and Jason Wilson, both Democrats who said during the hearing they could support reorganization of the city and county.
Former Bi-State and Metro CEO John Nations, a Republican, and Hazelwood City Councilwoman Carol Stroker, a Democrat, were appointed on 5-2 votes.
Yes on Nations: Clancy, Days, Gray, Trakas, Harder
No on Nations: Dunaway, Fitch
Yes on Stroker: Clancy, Dunaway, Days, Gray, Harder
No on Stroker: Trakas, Fitch
During the hearing, Stroker had said she is going into the Freeholders process with a positive view of the city re-entering the county. She was approved 5-2 with Fitch and Trakas voting against her appointment. However, Harder has worked with Stroker and the Hazelwood council on the POWERPlex sports complex and voted for her.
The first vote against Nations came from Dunaway, who said she didn’t like how Nations took no blame for any of the missteps at Metro. Fitch also voted no on Nations for the same reason.
“In all of those instances he passed the buck on to someone else,” Dunaway said. “That is not the leader that I see a fit in a project of this magnitude, and therefore I vote no.”
But Gray, who was not at the hearings, said she was also weighing against voting for Nations. After a long pause, she said she would vote for him.
Although Trakas has lately been a critic of Metro and how it is run, in the end his vote came down to his trust for Nations as a fellow nemesis of former County Executive Steve Stenger.
“I’ve worked with John Nations for three years almost, as long as I’ve been here, through some pretty tumultuous times in the previous county executive’s attempts to control Bi-State,” Trakas said. “Mr. Nations was steadfast in his resistance to that, and many of Bi-State’s problems are attributable to that as opposed to any type of mismanagement.
I’ve known him to be pretty straightforward with respect to his representations, so I manifestly differ with Councilman Fitch and Councilwoman Dunaway, and I vote aye.”
See below for a gallery of the county Freeholders (photos by Erin Achenbach):