By Gloria Lloyd
Former St. Louis County Police Department Chief Tim Fitch kicked off his candidacy for the County Council last week with a promise that he would take no campaign donations.
The seat Fitch is seeking is currently held by 3rd District Councilwoman Colleen Wasinger, R-Huntleigh, and covers west county, Fenton, Sunset Hills and parts of Crestwood.
Fitch, who lives in unincorporated Fenton, is running as a Republican and so far has not attracted any primary or general election opponents.
He made the vow not to take donations as he officially kicked off his candidacy Jan. 17 at Twisted Tree in Sunset Hills, with Wasinger and other local politicians present.
After three decades as a police officer, Fitch said he wants to represent voters rather than campaign donors.
“Being a police officer for a total of 34 years, 31 at the county, it just seemed very odd to me to ask people for money and to take money from people,” Fitch said. “And many of my friends that are in the room today said, ‘Are you crazy? Are you absolutely nuts? You can’t win an election without taking money.’ I said let’s see. People don’t like big money in government.”
The former chief promised not to change his mind even if someone files to run against him in the primary or general election. Anyone who truly wants to donate money in his name can use a link on his website to donate to the USO of Missouri, he said. He serves on the advisory board of the nonprofit organization that benefits the military.
Fitch made the decision not to take donations with his wife of 32 years, Ruth, a nurse. They have two children, Sarah and Ryan, who are both married and live in the county. Grandson Leo was born in June.
Since Fitch retired from the county Police Department in 2014, he has served as the manager of global security for Emerson Electric. He left the county to take that job after a series of very public battles with then-County Executive Charlie Dooley. Those clashes included Fitch’s call for the FBI to investigate the construction of the new crime laboratory and the resignations of three of the five members of the county Board of Police Commissioners amid questions of whether Dooley was attempting to appoint board members who would fire Fitch.
“After working there for 31 years, I learned a lot about county government, good and bad,” Fitch said, then joked, “By the way, is Charlie Dooley here?”
But that was one of the few allusions to the past as Fitch made the case for how he might serve the county in the future. With his own battles behind him, he sees his role as more of a peacemaker on a council where he already knows most of the players from his days as chief or his last few years as Republican committeeman for Meramec Township.
He also described County Executive Steve Stenger as a friend, although he said they have not spoken in more than a year. That was when Fitch opposed some aspects of the new countywide half-cent sales tax Proposition P that voters approved last year for police and public safety, a Stenger initiative for more police funding.
“One of the things I learned in 31 years of law enforcement is to bring two sides together and find out what we have in common and move on to end the turmoil,” Fitch said. “Do it behind closed doors. Nobody wants to see how you make sausage.”
Some of the bad blood between Stenger and the council could be chalked up to Stenger’s hefty campaign donations from companies and individuals with contracts with the county, Fitch said. To fix the problem, Fitch suggested while holding up a sign that said “Pay to Play” that voters could amend the county Charter to restrict campaign contributions, just as they did at the state level in November 2016. Today, contributions to Stenger and other county candidates can be unlimited.
As a former police chief, Fitch believes he is familiar with the county budget and its largest expense, the Police Department. He also knows how county government works and what doesn’t work, and the county Charter, which he had to follow as chief. He was asked to run by Wasinger last year as she pondered not running again, Fitch said.
The idea of running was already in his head after he was inspired by a tweet from St. Louis Alderman Antonio French during the events in Ferguson in 2014.
At the kickoff, Wasinger said she was not yet endorsing Fitch but believes he would make a worthy successor.
“I think Chief Fitch has a lot of wonderful qualities that he articulated very well today, and he will give a voice that will be good not only for St. Louis County residents, but also police officers,” she said. “I think he offers a unique perspective on that.”
Fitch believes he shares the top priority of county citizens — public safety. His qualifications on that front were seconded by former County Executive Gene McNary, a Republican. When Fitch pointed McNary out in the audience at the kickoff event, the former county executive called out, “We need some law and order on the council.”
Although Fitch said more campaign promises are to come, the ones he unveiled last week are:
• Opposition to any city-county merger, although collaborations that make sense for the county could be considered. As examples, Fitch noted that the city-county police departments’ bomb and arson unit, aviation unit and private security unit were combined under his watch because the move made sense financially.
• A renewed focus on public safety in light of rising crimes in the county. Something has to be done about violent crime like carjackings, which are on the rise, Fitch noted. He also would like to develop a way to enforce voluntary countywide police standards so that every police department in the county will get accredited.
• Changing the governance of St. Louis Lambert International Airport, which is in the county but owned by the city. Fitch said he would like the county to be involved in overseeing the airport since it should be run as a regional asset rather than a “profit center” for the city.
• Serving as a watchdog over Prop P money, including tightening up the definition of “public safety” to prevent money from being shifted out of the police budget.