Fitch looks back on his tenure

Councilman prioritizing for rest of his term and future

Former+St.+Louis+County+Police+Chief+Tim+Fitch+is+sworn+in+as+the+3rd+District+St.+Louis+County+Councilman+by+Judge+Dean+P.+Waldemer+while+with+his+wife+and+family+on+Tuesday%2C+Jan.+1%2C+2019.+Fitch+won+the+November+2018+election+to+replace+former+3rd+District+Councilwoman+Colleen+Wasinger%2C+who+did+not+seek+re-election.

Photo by Erin Achenbach

Former St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch is sworn in as the 3rd District St. Louis County Councilman by Judge Dean P. Waldemer while with his wife and family on Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019. Fitch won the November 2018 election to replace former 3rd District Councilwoman Colleen Wasinger, who did not seek re-election.

By Erin Achenbach, Staff Reporter

St. Louis County Councilman Tim Fitch is over halfway through his first four-year term representing the 3rd District, and is looking forward to getting the economy back on track after the pandemic while eyeing a second term.

Fitch’s 3rd District includes Sunset Hills, Fenton, Kirkwood, Des Peres, Valley Park, Twin Oaks, Manchester, Huntleigh, Frontenac, as well as portions of Crestwood, Creve Coeur, Chesterfield and portions of unincorporated St. Louis County in Concord and Fenton. In all, he represents 22 municipalities.

Fitch, a Republican who lives in unincorporated Fenton and served as the county’s police chief from 2009 to 2014, took office in January 2019, succeeding the longtime previous officeholder, Councilwoman Colleen Wasinger, R-Huntleigh.

In an interview with The Call, the former St. Louis County chief of police said that his No. 1 one priority through the rest of 2021 was recovering economically from COVID-19. For nearly all of 2020 and the first part of this year, most businesses, from gyms, to restaurants, to grocery stores, had to operate at reduced capacity or temporarily close altogether under health orders from the county to curb the spread of the virus. The federal government is sending the county $193 million in the second round of relief funds.

“This is going to be a long process. … If I had my way, a lot of (the $193 million) would go to economic recovery, especially for small businesses impacted by the pandemic,” said Fitch. “Getting businesses restarted … back up and running again — that’s my No. 1 priority now that we are on the other side of the pandemic.”

Fitch added that continuing to make sure people get vaccinated is important as well.

During Fitch’s first year in office, he hosted a town hall in Fenton alongside Mayor Bob Brasses. At the time, former County Executive Steve Stenger had just resigned from office in the wake of federal corruption charges, with now-County Executive Sam Page taking the helm.

Page’s Chief of Staff Winston Calvert was also in attendance at that town hall and said that the county executive’s office was trying to “develop a collaborative relationship with the council” after Stenger’s departure. But in the years since, that relationship has “deteriorated” according to Fitch, most recently evidenced when the county filed a lawsuit in January against four council members, including Fitch.

The council chair for 2020, 5th District Councilwoman Lisa Clancy, was elected chair the first meeting in January on a 4-3 vote that included an outgoing council member, after a Charter change said that new council members are not sworn in until the second Tuesday of January instead of the traditional Jan. 1. Fitch disputed that Clancy was the duly elected chair, arguing that a vote should have been held after new 4th District Councilwoman Shalonda Webb was sworn in. A judge ultimately ruled in favor of Fitch’s side.

“We started strong with the new county executive. It’s deteriorated from that time. … It took another downturn with Lisa Clancy as the chair. She did not allow opposing views to be heard, she cut my microphone off. It causes a lot of divisiveness,” said Fitch. “At the end of the day, the court ruled that we were right.”

Fitch said in the wake of the lawsuit, it will probably take some time to repair the relationship between the county executive’s office and the other council members.

“(Page) likes to blame the bad relationship on the public health orders,” said Fitch. “This started way before the public health order, before the pandemic. All that did was exacerbate the problem.”

In 2020, several Republican County Council members including Fitch sought to restrict Page’s stay-at-home orders through legislation that would require majority council approval to extend health orders beyond a certain time frame. State legislators passed legislation this month that will limit health orders to 30 days. The order can only be extended with a majority vote of the appropriate governing body. Fitch called the legislation a “major victory for the council.”

Unrelated to economic development, Fitch would like to see the county transition to a professional manager form of government with a county manager overseeing day-to-day operations of county facilities, programs and staff. Staff would support the county board in creating policies and making financial decisions, similar to the city administrators in South County cities like Sunset Hills and Crestwood.

“We’ve had multiple problems in the past, at least the last three administrations, because they are being run politically instead of professionally,” Fitch said. “I think the county needs a professional county manager. That will take a charter vote of the people. I want that on the ballot before the end of my first term.”

The current county Charter calls for a full-time county executive who appoints a staff that runs everyday operations. With a county manager, the executive post would become largely ceremonial. Past efforts to place a Charter change on the ballot for a professional manager have failed.

Fitch would also like to see a measure placed on the ballot that would make county races nonpartisan. Right now, if you run for elected office in the county, you have to declare a political party.

“These should be nonpartisan races. The county government is not making those kinds of decisions,” said Fitch. “We’re not talking about partisan issues. All it does is create a divide in our community by having a party” on the ballot.

Fitch said that the council has not had any formal talks about placing a professional manager or nonpartisan races on the ballot for a vote, but that he has been having talks behind the scenes: “At the end of the day, the public should be the ones deciding.”

Fitch had planned to hold a series of town halls throughout 2019 and 2020 after starting with the one in Fenton, followed by another scheduled in Manchester that ultimately ended up being canceled because of the pandemic, along with every other in-person event in 2020.

With things reopening, Fitch plans to resume the town halls and also wants to make it to a council or aldermen meeting in each of all 22 municipalities in his district before the end of his term.

“I did join a couple council meetings by Zoom this year but I want to join in person,” said Fitch.