In race for county executive, Mantovani, Page, Zimmerman outline stances on the issues

From left: Mark Mantovani, Sam Page and Jake Zimmerman.

From left: Mark Mantovani, Sam Page and Jake Zimmerman.

By Erin Achenbach, Staff Reporter

Four candidates are running for St. Louis County executive in the Democratic primary Tuesday, Aug. 4, including current County Executive Sam Page. The winner of the primary will face off in November against whoever secures the Republican nod to run for county executive, either Paul Berry III or Ed Golterman.

In the Democratic race, the candidates running are Page, Mark Mantovani, Jamie Tolliver and county Assessor Jake Zimmerman. Tolliver did not return The Call’s questionnaire. 

From left: Mark Mantovani, Sam Page, Jamie Tolliver and Jake Zimmerman.

Mantovani, 66, 19 Dromara Road, Ladue, is an attorney, entrepreneur and businessman, as well as the former CEO of the marketing agency Ansira. He is married to Patricia Hofmeister Mantovani, and they have three adult children.

Mantovani attended St. Louis University High School, received his undergraduate degree from Quincy University, his law degree from the University of Missouri and his master’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh. He was also a fellow in residence at Harvard University from 2016-2015, studying state and local governance.

Mantovani has not held public office in the past, although he did run in the Democratic primary for county executive in 2018 against then-incumbent Steve Stenger. He was also appointed to the stalled-out Board of Freeholders by Page last year before resigning from the board in January.

When asked why he was seeking office, Mantovani said, “The people of St. Louis County deserve competent, bold leadership to tackle our tough problems and turn things around. For too long we’ve experienced stagnant economic growth, crime, racial disparities and tired political leadership — and COVID has amplified these challenges. I’m running to restore our region, to spark growth, create jobs and build a safer, healthier and more equitable county. I have the executive and management experience to get the job done and will bring a fresh approach to county government.”

Page, 55, 17 Windsor Terrace Lane, Creve Coeur, is the current county executive and former 2nd District County Council member. He took over the seat of executive from Stenger, who resigned in April 2019 in the wake of federal corruption charges. Page and his wife, Jennifer, have three children: Logan, Luke and Jake.

Page attended the University of Missouri-Kansas City for both his undergraduate studies and medical school. He has been a doctor for 28 years, studying anesthesiology.

Page is a former Creve Coeur councilman (1999 to 2002) and state representative (2003 to 2009).

When asked why he was seeking office, Page said, “I went to medical school to help people. I ran for office for the same reason. I’ve served the people of St. Louis County as the city councilman, a state representative, a County Council member, and now as the county executive. When as county councilman I started expressing my concerns about the ongoing corruption in county government, which led into the investigation into Steve Stenger, I never expected he would go to federal prison. I certainly didn’t expect that I would take his place. But every experience prepares you for the next, and I’m glad that the experiences I have had — as a member of city, state and county government, and as a medical doctor — have prepared me to lead this county through what is one of the most challenging and dangerous times in our history. I was committed to running before the COIVD-19 pandemic and before the murder of George Floyd, and I’m even more committed to running now. People’s lives are at stake, and that’s where I focus my attention. This is not a game. The person who leads the county over the next two years needs to be able to hit the ground running. This is no time for on-the-job learning. This is a time for taking action, and my record over the last year — which anyone can see with their own eyes — shows that I’m the leader who can keep us safe, and move us forward. My experience as a medical doctor, and my on-the-ground experience as county executive, make me uniquely suited to remain county executive as we move forward. I know what this job takes, and I would be honored to have your vote in the Aug. 4, 2020 Democratic primary election.”

Zimmerman, 46, 13 Arbor Road, Olivette, is the current St. Louis County assessor. He was first elected to the position in 2011. He and his wife, Megan, have one child, Gabriel.

Zimmerman is a graduate of Clayton High School, Claremont McKenna College and Harvard Law School. He was a state representative from 2007 to 2011, served as the assistant attorney general of Missouri and was deputy chief counsel to former Missouri Gov. Bob Holden.

When asked why he was running for office, Zimmerman said, “I seek a county government that is open and transparent — no more pay to play, no more hiding investigative results on things like prisoner deaths at the jail, no more backroom deals. A coronavirus recovery plan that is driven by science and is more concerned with saving lives than with bundling federal grants into political slush funds. Reimagined policing that lets all of our residents of all races feel safe and secure in their lives and homes, and proud of the police department that serves them. A county government that knows what it is doing and does it right.”

The candidates gave the following responses to the Call’s questionnaire:

What issue do you consider the single most important in this race and why?

Mantovani said, “Creating economic growth, jobs and new opportunities to improve the lives of St. Louis County residents and revitalize our communities. We need solid, effective leadership, not the same old career politicians, to competently lead us out of the COVID crisis and move us forward.”

Page said, “This election is about leadership. It’s about who can share their vision for the county, and who can build the diverse coalition we need to make that vision a reality. It’s about who has the experience and the knowledge to keep you and your family safe. The most important issue in any race is who can do the job best. I can tell you — this job is not easy. During the little over a year that I have been the county executive, we have gone through three crises: Cleaning up the mess left by Stenger and his administration, managing the health, humanitarian and economic crisis that is COVID-19, and the issues exposed by the Black Lives Matter movement. We are leading the county through these things in a thoughtful manner, keeping the health and welfare of the residents as the top priority. Voters can see with their own eyes what we’ve done — implementing historic ethics reforms at the county; being one of the first jurisdictions in the country to issue stay-at-home orders —  which was not popular at the time but saved countless lives; spending CARES Act (federal coronavirus) funding efficiently, effectively and equitably while providing unparalleled transparency for that spending through a transparency portal and (County Council) Oversight Committee; and providing the kind of steady, honest leadership the people of St. Louis County deserve.”

Zimmerman said, “St. Louis County must do better than we have done thus far in combating the coronavirus pandemic. We’ve been late on testing. Ineffective on contact tracing. Didn’t foresee an infection rate twice as high in North County as in other areas, and let the situation there get out of control. We are spending the $174 million federal grant without County Council oversight, and putting 10 percent of that money into slush funds for County Council members to dole out to favored groups and businesses. I believe in science and equity. We will be guided by the experts, putting saving lives first, and we will not shortchange people in need because they live in the wrong ZIP code. See my plan at www.jakezimmerman.org/covid‐19/.”

Other issues you perceive in your race and your position on each:

Mantovani said, “Crime and safety, social inequities and insider politics.

“1. I am proud to be endorsed by the St. Louis County Police Association, which represents the 1,300 officers that work for the county and the St. Louis Police Association. As county executive, I will work in partnership with law enforcement and our neighborhoods to develop innovative initiatives to reduce violent crime. And I will bring together police, community leaders and clergy to begin to build the trust that is necessary to bring our community together.

“2. Efforts of the county executive as a regional leader must be concurrently dedicated to creating economic growth and social change. In the St. Louis region, progress on social inequities is complicated by the longstanding strain on public resources attributable to a declining regional economic base. I believe that if the St. Louis region fails to expand its population and resources via economic growth, the likelihood that the social inequities will dissipate is low.

“3. I bring a fresh, independent approach to county government. I will award contracts on merit and end pay-to-play politics.”

Page did not answer.

Zimmerman said, “St. Louis County has a problem with racial inequity in policing, and it’s time our police chief and county executive admitted that and did something about it. I have proposed strong and aggressive reforms, outlawing dangerous use‐of‐force tactics like chokeholds, increased accountability and civilian oversight for our police and reform the way our department goes about policing. See my plan at www.jakezimmerman.org/policing‐accountability/.”

Do you believe the St. Louis County Planning Commission is responsive to county residents? How long should appointees serve on the Planning Commission? Is there anything about the zoning process that should change?

Mantovani said, “The key is finding quality, committed and knowledgeable people to serve versus term limits; although expired and neglected positions continue to be a problem. The Planning and Zoning Commission is particularly difficult for people in South County, especially the inconvenience of commission hearings conducted in Clayton. I would like to investigate opportunities for hearings to be conducted more conveniently, and also explore creating a South County planning district comprised of South County residents who would have input on South County zoning issues.”

Page said, “All aspects of county government should be responsive to residents, and the Planning Commission should be no different. While not everyone will be satisfied with every decision, everyone needs equal access and fair process. It is crucial to make sure the voices of South County residents are heard in the process. Planning Commission members serve to balance the concerns of property owners and their neighbors when there is an opportunity for new development and new commerce and jobs. They are appointed to three-year terms and are eligible for reappointment. There was a five-year backlog of appointments when I took office. We made great progress on this backlog prior to COVID-19 and continue to review the 74 boards and commissions and 450 appointments made by the county executive.”

Zimmerman said, “Government service at all levels must be accountable, transparent and fair to all. Residents of unincorporated areas are entitled to the same level of service as residents of the municipalities get from their zoning boards.”

What is your position on incorporation?

Mantovani said, “For incorporation of unincorporated St. Louis County, I would support a panel to review some of the restrictions on incorporation.”

Page said, “South County is the largest unincorporated area in the county. They receive police, road and other municipal services from St. Louis County. No matter where you live, unincorporated or part of a municipality, quality service is paramount. We are proud of the service St. Louis County provides and our relationship with the community. I see no reason for change.”

Zimmerman said, “I strongly believe in government by the consent of the governed and I respect the will of the voters on incorporation/disincorporation issues.”

Should the county executive attend County Council meetings?

Mantovani said, “Yes.”

Page said, “Yes. Unlike my predecessor, I attend the County Council meetings each week. During those meetings, I provide a detailed report of the work of my administration over the past week, as well as set policy agendas and discuss the county’s reaction to current events. The county executive does not exist on an island, and the County Council doesn’t either. Both must work together in order to have the best outcomes for the county as a whole.”

Zimmerman said, “Yes. That’s the law, and it’s also critical to maintaining a healthy working relationship between the executive and legislative branches.”

Will you accept campaign contributions from developers with projects or contracts proposed at the county level? What are your thoughts on the county executive negotiating leases or contracts with businesses owned by campaign contributors?

Mantovani said, “If elected county executive, I will not accept donations from anyone who has a contract to do business with the county. Only experienced county staff or professionals should negotiate county leases.”

Page said, “No, I will not accept campaign contributions from developers with projects or contracts or proposals in front of the county for decision. It is inappropriate for the county executive to negotiate leases or contracts. This should be left to the professional staff without political interference.”

Zimmerman said, “We’ve seen enough of ‘pay to play.’ Sadly, Steve Stenger’s departure did not end pay to play, as we’ve seen the current administration become embroiled in contracting conflicts of interest. I will put a stop to this with a purchasing and contracting process that is completely insulated from political influence.”

Are you satisfied with the current state of the county’s assessment process?

Mantovani said, “People should not be shocked by their assessments. There should be more transparency in the process and upgrades to staff and technology should be reviewed.”

Page said, “No. Are you?”

Zimmerman said, “I am proud of the work my team in the assessor’s office has done to clean up the assessment process. We’ve gone after the fake farmers, the corporate jet hiders, the phony charities and the casino owners and made them pay their fair share. And, there has not been even one ‘drive-by assessment’ on my watch. Certainly, there is always room for more improvement, but I think most voters agree that the difference between the assessor’s office before I became the first elected assessor in 50 years in 2011 and the assessor’s office today is night‐and‐day in terms of professionalism and customer service.”

Are you satisfied with the direction the county is headed?

Mantovani said, “No. For decades our economy has suffered and we’ve fallen behind as regions like Kansas City and Louisville pass us by. Our community is reeling from COVID and racial unrest. Our leadership is tired, worn down and struggling to gain control, collaborate and communicate effectively. Now more than ever we need a dynamic leader with solid executive and management experience to take on the substantive issues and do things differently.”

Page said, “Yes. If you’d asked me this question before April of 2019, I would have said no. Steve Stenger’s administration left a deep wound across the county. Unmet promises, lies … the list goes on. Government should be a thing people can trust to serve them, not to serve their own interests. The process of rebuilding that trust has been slow, but we are dedicated to making it happen.”

Zimmerman said, “I see so many ways that we could do better, and it is so disappointing that the departure of Steve Stenger did not lead to real reform. End pay to play. Restore transparency and accountability to county government, including the police department. A true science‐based plan for pandemic recovery. And much more.”

Do you support a merger of St. Louis County and St. Louis city?

Mantovani said, “No. I oppose a ‘merger’ of the city and county. No workable plan for a ‘super regional government’ has every been attractive to residents of either the city or the county. Further, we cannot force our many, beloved municipalities out of existence. Each of St. Louis County’s municipalities, and St. Louis city itself, strives for what’s best for its residents and each has its own unique characteristics. Municipal officials should be partners with county government, and I am already and will continue to collaborate with the municipalities. That said, I would encourage discussions on how we can work together to develop consistent policies, negotiate economic opportunities, attract and retain new talent and recognize economies of scale.”

Page said, “No. It’s not the time to discuss a merger of the city and the county. But it is time to talk about how we can work together. I’m in regular contact with the leadership of St. Louis city, St. Charles County, Franklin County and Jefferson County, particularly during recent months as we deal with the pandemic. We have a great working relationship, and we’ll continue. But, as we begin to recover economically from the pandemic, it will be even more important to work together to attract businesses to our region, stimulate growth throughout the region, and improve the resources we have in every ZIP code. St. Louis County is not an island, and we can’t operate like it is. For St. Louis County to succeed, the entire region must succeed. That’s why we’re working with St. Louis city to build a professional, ethical Economic Development Partnership to attract businesses to our region. ZIP code should not be a measure of success in health outcomes, nor should it be one in economic opportunity. People choose where they want to live and operate their businesses by the resources available to them in that place. Our goal should be to provide those resources, among them excellent education, public safety, culture, and appropriate support from the government when necessary.”

Zimmerman said, “If we learned anything from the public policy abomination called Better Together, it is that a mega‐metro plan designed behind closed doors by special‐interest lobbyists to be shoved down the throats of the taxpayers, is doomed to failure. The people’s voice will be heard. I support efforts to enhance regional cooperation, but I am firmly committed to government by the consent of the governed and will respect the will of the voters.”

What measures, if any, will you propose to encourage economic development in South County?

Mantovani said, “I have a long history of business success. As a native of unincorporated South County/Affton (who spent much of his youth at Heine Meine) I have special concern and affection for this part of the county. I’ll need to partner with chambers and other business leaders in South County to learn about their specific challenges and goals. I think it’s important to recognize that much of the South County community has aged, since it’s postwar growth and the infrastructure reflects that same process. If South County is going to be reignited, it has to attract new residents and new businesses in a different way. Promotion of the quality of life here is necessary and appropriate to attracting investment. A delegation from South County could be paired with the Regional Economic Council, or other regional economic development entities, to promote development and be advisors to my office.”

Page said, “This pandemic is not just a health-care crisis. It’s also an economic and humanitarian crisis. The first step in our economic recovery is limiting the spread of COVID-19 in our community. We will continue to do that.

“Ten percent of our CARES Act funding has been set aside for a Small Business Relief Fund — a fund for small businesses to receive grants of up to $15,000 to help them through this crisis, including businesses in South County. It’s not as much as I’d like, but it’s something. When we were creating it, we recognized that we needed to make sure these funds were distributed quickly, but also were distributed in a transparent way so people can trust that they aren’t political favors. That’s why, rather than my administration giving out any grants or awards to small businesses, it’s up to each County Councilperson along with their local municipal leaders to review the applications and recommend awardees.

“When I became county executive, I knew we needed to rebuild trust between residents and the government. That’s also true with businesses. We need it to be as easy as possible for good businesses to operate and to thrive. My administration understands our role to provide quality customer service, and we are constantly trying to improve communication between the administration and county businesses. While we have come a long way since the Stenger administration to restore trust and accountability, we have more to do.”

Zimmerman said, “Economic development policy should be about creating jobs and business opportunities. We will take politics out of the Port Authority and the Economic Development Partnership.”

Are cuts needed to balance the county’s budget? What do you see as the status of county finances?

Mantovani said, “After the public health emergency passes, it is expected that there will be an acute and material budget challenge in the region. St. Louis County could see as much as a $100 million revenue shortfall. Our region was already facing a struggling economy, but we must ensure that county budget cuts not fall on those whose health and livelihood have been devastated by the pandemic. The county should address revenue shortfalls by considering: liquidating underutilized and surplus real estate and equipment; using the county’s bond capacity and current low interest rates to grow our infrastructure and build jobs, delivering more services online, and allowing some residents and business to delay paying taxes (our debt capacity also could be used here to cover the temporary forbearance, and future tax payments used to pay the debt).”

Page said, “For our county budget to recover, we need our economy to recover. So we have created an Economic Recovery Team made up of business leaders, labor leaders and the Heartland St. Louis Black Chamber of Commerce. This team includes South County residents. This team will help our business community and economy get back on track.

“We’ve also been working over the last year to sell some of the vacant property owned by St. Louis County; I’m glad that those deals are moving forward and giving our community some significant sources of revenue when we need it the most.

“We are also dedicated to spending the CARES Act funding efficiently and effectively, and that’s because the timing truly matters. Any CARES Act funding that is not spent by the end of this calendar year is forfeited. That means that if we do not use those funds wisely — and timely — that the taxpayers of the county will be on the hook for anything that could have been paid for with those federal funds. CARES fund spending can be tracked at StlCorona.com on the transparency portal.

“And most importantly, public health must come first; an economy cannot recover when people are sick, or are afraid of getting sick. But as we manage our health crisis, we are also managing our economic crisis, and we will continue to do so.”

Zimmerman said, “I was very concerned to learn that the current administration could not tell the County Council the current status of Proposition P spending. And if that wasn’t bad enough, now we have the County Council relinquishing its oversight of COVID‐19 recovery spending and the county executive setting up slush funds for County Council members to distribute more than $17 million in COVID‐19 recovery grants (which should be allocated on the basis of need, not political connection). It’s time for a top‐to‐bottom review of county budget and spending policies.”

Should the County Council have its own attorney besides the county counselor?

Mantovani said, “Yes.”

Page said, “The County Council should have its own attorney. The Charter amendment that I sponsored to do so lost by 50 votes in a Countywide vote. Currently the County Counselor’s office has three divisions. One serves the County Council.”

Zimmerman said, “In 2018 the people voted to change the County Charter on this issue and I respect the judgment of the voters.”

 

What will you do to address the problem exposed by the unrest in Feguson and nationwide protests after the death of George Floyd?

Mantovani said, “I would work to eliminate structural racism with more collaborative, engaged, innovative and aggressive leadership and take the following key steps:

Work aggressively to foster greater trust in a community-wide conversation about how we eliminate structural racism and the impediments to progress, and continue the efforts of the Ferguson Commission and For the Sake of All reports.

Work closely with our first responders to increase their commitment to delivering effective and prudent policing, and to enhance their training, expand community policing, and increase investment in initiatives that build a healthier relationship with minority communities.

Investigate and execute innovative programs intended to decrease violent crime.

Recognize that poverty leads to desperation and consequently work to increase investment in neighborhoods and expand programs designed to increase the wealth of black families through home ownership, entrepreneurial initiatives and expanded investment in small minority-owned businesses.”

Page said, “Racism is a public health crisis. It’s a simple fact that people are dying because they are black. Places that do not recognize that fact and do not treat it as the emergency it is will never succeed. My administration understood this fact before the murder of George Floyd, and it’s why every policy decision we have made, make, and will make is through an equity lens.

“So what has that looked like? Even before Mr. Floyd’s murder, the “8 Can’t Wait” policies had already been implemented by the County police department. One of my first actions in office was to create our office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to help us increase minority participation in contracts. My first executive order was to prohibit questions about a candidate’s prior salary during County hiring decisions, because too often women and minorities are locked into lower salaries because of those kinds of questions. Last year, I directed one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter PAC to conduct full day anti-bias training for our police department – from first year officers to top brass. And when I saw the hundreds of vacant positions on our boards and commissions, I set to work filling those positions – and worked to diversify those boards and commissions.”

Zimmerman said, “First, admit we have problems with racial equity in policing – something our new police chief and the County Executive are thus far unwilling to do. Second, take meaningful action on policing reform and accountability – see my plan at https://www.jakezimmerman.org/policing‐accountability/. Third, engage with the community to discuss and address the serious societal problems underlying racial inequity. Injustice against one of us is injustice against all of us.”

Should the city of St. Louis enter the county as a municipality?

Mantovani said, “It’s important to note that County and City voters would have to approve any such change. This is not something that the County Executive can orchestrate without public assent. How we move forward as a region — whether that’s the city reentering the county as its largest municipality (which I hasten to add does NOT require county residents to pick up any significant new liabilities from the city) or whether it’s two suburban municipalities that wish to come together, I will never support any arrangement that does not have the approval of the community and voters.”

Page said, “While this is one proposed mechanism to merge the city and county, as I said in a previous question, this is not the right time to discuss a merger. For the city of St. Louis to be a municipality of St. Louis County, voters in both jurisdictions should vote to do so.”

Zimmerman said, “I believe in government by consent of the governed. That means neither city re‐entry nor any other merger proposal should be entertained without the support of citizens on both sides of the city‐county line.“

What is your greatest accomplishment for the county?

Mantovani said, “As I’ve never been a County official, this question is less relevant to me. I believe, however, that my commitment to speaking about integrity in our political leaders in 2018 led directly to the termination of a corrupt government in St. Louis County. While others were silent or commenting from the comparative security of a paid position, I spent personal funds to correctly challenge a well-funded but corrupt county executive, receiving votes from approximately 90,000 St. Louis County Democratic voters. Again, I’m very proud to have built a coalition of energized supporters from all parts of the region and across racial and socio-economic lines who realize the potential of our county and the need for competent, collaborative leadership vs. the same tired politicians who have proven ineffective in moving our region forward. Finally, my willingness to speak truth to power has led to numerous changes of policy in the office of the county executive over the last year, as the administration has wilted under my calls for policy change.”

Page said, “My greatest accomplishment has been saving lives. It’s easy to forget, but back in March when we had just a handful of COVID-19 cases, quite a few people questioned my decision to issue stay-at-home orders so quickly. But because of my medical background and training, I’m used to making fast, level-headed decisions with limited information in life-or-death situations, I made the call that I knew had to be made. I didn’t need an extra day or two to get a better feel for what the data was telling me. A delay of a day or two would have cost lives. The decision to issue a stay-at-home order so quickly wasn’t the politically popular one, at least not at the time, but it was the one that saved lives, and continues to save lives. With your help and participation, we were able to flatten the curve quickly and did not have the devastation that other cities and countries have had. One death is too many, but working together we were able to prevent countless more.”

Zimmerman said, “I am proud of my record of accountability and transparency as the first elected County Assessor in more than 50 years. On my watch, we ended drive‐by assessments, stood up to powerful special interests, and had the guts to take on tough fights while others in County government were playing politics and selling out the people.”

How will you attract new business and jobs into the county?

Mantovani said, “It’s imperative that St. Louis County comes to be viewed as a good place to do business. Because of regulation and inefficiencies, many business people will openly acknowledge today that they find it more rewarding to do business in St. Charles County or Jefferson County than in St. Louis County. This is unfortunate. As a business person, I will engage the business community in a different way. We have not had a business person in the county executive’s office for many years, and the economic performance of the region reflects that. As county executive I intend to convene and coordinate the various economic development partners in our region, to develop concerted strategy(ies), to streamline efforts and provide clear direction on responsibilities. Third, in this time of remote working, I will aggressively promote the benefits of living in our region to a broader audience, including young adults, and position our own resources in remote locations around the country to promote St. Louis as a viable alternative for relocating business operations. We should be aggressively luring businesses to our community. We have a saleable story and product to sell; we merely require someone in the county executive’s office to sell it. And, finally, I would provide more support for businesses as they run into challenges and help ease any unnecessary inefficiencies at the government level that provide roadblocks.”

Page said, “Just last week, Accenture announced that they are bringing 1,400 new jobs to St. Louis County. They said their biggest reason for choosing to do this was the talent pool in St. Louis County. While I agree that County residents are in a class of their own, we must continue to attract the best and the brightest. Our stellar universities help, so do many of our amenities. We must also make it easier to do business with the County, which is why we are making our website more user-friendly and why we understand the importance of customer service in our departments.”

Zimmerman said, “It’s time to end our broken model of economic development. Handing out big tax breaks and incentive payments to move a Walmart from one suburb to another or pay off a campaign contributor is not economic development. It’s waste. I will think holistically about economic development and work across city, county and state lines to boost economic development for our region.”

How will you ensure transparency?

Mantovani said, “By communicating with the region in a different way, by recognizing challenges, progress and failures. I have no illusions about the fact that sometimes leadership has to share bad news. If a leader believes that he/she can’t share bad news, they resist full disclosure. That’s a fatal flaw, and it’s particularly acute among career politicians who view their duties through the prism of future political aspirations. Since I have no further political aspirations, I am unafraid. Further, I’ll require this same commitment to honesty, accountability and transparency of all staff and department heads, who need to start focusing on service to their constituents and doing their jobs rather than focusing on the political implications of every decision.”

Page said, “Transparency has been central to my administration because I want you to see what your government is doing for you. When Steve Stenger resigned and went to prison, we had to rebuild trust with County residents. We were starting from less than zero. We immediately requested an audit of the County Government by State Auditor Nicole Galloway. We relinquished unilateral control of the Port Authority and appointed a group of business leaders to oversee the Economic Development Partnership. We incorporated a whistleblower policy, making it easier for people to raise the red flag if they needed to. We hired a federal prosecutor as our County Counselor, revisited deals made by Stenger’s administration, and ended “no work” political appointments. We created a Financial Transparency report to make it easier for you to understand the budget, a 100 Day Report so you could see what we had accomplished in my first 100 days, and an annual report so you could see what we did in our first (almost) year. Every week I attend the County Council meetings, where I give a county executive report to let people know what is going on in their government. And during our current COVID crisis, we’ve created a Transparency Portal that tracks every single dollar of CARES Act federal grant funding, so you can see where those federal dollars are being spent. We are livestreaming County Council meetings, I have live press briefings Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 8:30am, and every week our team sends out an email about what has happened the week before.

“Recently, I heard from someone who has been a County resident for 60 plus years. He told me that he’s never seen this much effort to keep the people of the community informed. That’s what we like to hear, and that’s why we’ll continue sharing information across the County.

Zimmerman said, “I will make transparency in governance a top priority. Anyone in my administration who plays hide‐the‐ ball with the people, the media or the Council – as the current administration has on issues such as the six County Jail deaths in the last year – will answer to me. I also will show up to meet with constituents face‐to‐face.”

What will you do about the county’s animal shelter?

Mantovani said, “St. Louis County Animal Care and Control has faced multiple challenges. I would meet with staff to understand all the issues and would look at best practices from other municipalities across the county. One idea is to consider a public-private partnership in some form.”

Page said, “My dog, Midnight, is a rescue, as were all of the dogs that we’ve had. Like many County residents, I was more than angry when I read the audit of the County Animal Care and Control. My administration has had to clean up a lot of the mess left by former County Executive Steve Stenger. The Pet Adoption Center is one of those things. I committed early on to assure the humane treatment and care of all animals in the County Animal Care and Control shelter and as part of that I demanded an increase in the live release rate. When I took office the live release rate was 75 percent. Now it’s 96.7 percent – a 20 [ercent increase in less than a year. Another key finding of the audit related to the previous administration’s misuse of the owner surrender request for euthanasia. It was a disgusting finding, and we have since lowered it exponentially.

“What this all comes down to is treating beings with respect and dignity. Previously animals at the shelter averaged a stay of 60 days – and some had been there for a year. We’ve already reduced that average stay by half, to 30 days. We’ve also implemented special programs to increase enrichment and socialization opportunities for each animal, and to make sure they get the exercise they need. I believe in incorporating trap, neuter, return practices. I applaud the success of the DOH leadership, staff, volunteers, and partner agencies. I will continue to assure that the County Pet Adoption Center is accountable and improves conditions, procedures and transparency of their operations.

“I want to note as well that the County Animal Care and Control team faced unique challenges to managing the humane care and treatment of animals during COVID-19. The staff and volunteers worked diligently to adhere to social distancing requirements while assuring animals in our care were treated humanely and found forever homes. We could not do any of this without our dedicated volunteers and staff, and I’m grateful to them every day.”

Zimmerman said, “For starters – unlike the Page administration – when shelter volunteers come forward with urgent concerns about the shelter’s operation, I will listen to them, not fire them. Then I will seriously consider their concerns and act appropriately.”

Do you have plans to expand MetroLink? What will you do to improve MetroLink security?

Mantovani said, “I have no current plans to expand MetroLink- primarily due to limited financial resources. Moreover, the first priority must be to improve the safety and operations of the current system. Ridership has plummeted significantly. The County, which is in charge of MetroLink security, needs to step up and create real safety. While some might argue that MetroLink is safe, the ridership seems not to concur.”

Page said, “We are reinvesting in safety on MetroLink. Last year, the County Council refinanced Bi-State’s bonds, which they believe may produce as much as $40 million in debt service savings which would allow them to fund additional security upgrades to improve safety. Bi-State and my administration are in constant communication.”

Zimmerman said, “I will listen with interest to what transit planners have to say, but ultimately expansion decisions will be made by the voters. Transit riders should feel secure on Metrolink, and I will work cooperatively with the other policing jurisdictions along the line to address this. I will not get into squabbles about who is going to pay for 18 cops on the Metrolink. We will do our fair share.

Should the county spend more or less on the Metro budget? What changes would you like to see, if any?

Mantovani said, “I would not favor the County spending additional money until the security problem is addressed in a material way. The goal must be to verify that riders are safe and that security is working as Metrolink has lost both riders and revenue over the last four years. I would review MetroLink governance, as well as how the budget is being dispersed, and rethink opportunities to beef up policing.”

Page said, “I would like to see no change in the spending on MetroLink, but I’d like to see more efficiencies. That’s why I think the new service being put forth by MetroLink is exciting. They have released a shared ride service app that can match multiple passengers who are headed in the same direction, allowing passengers to request rides that will take them to any location within the service area during operating hours. This is a 12-month pilot program that will be starting, in part, in Fenton and Valley Park. I encourage all readers of the Call to use it, and to let me know what they think.”

Zimmerman said, “The State of Missouri should spend more on Metrolink and mass transit. MoDot has been shortchanging our region for years.”

What do you think of new Chief Mary Barton? What did you think of former Chief Jon Belmar?

Mantovani said, “I have not met Chief Barton, but I respect her and wish her well. I also respect and like Chief Belmar. He worked hard for the people of St. Louis County. Beyond that, I do not think it’s appropriate for me to make judgmental comments about particular unelected public servants.

Page said, “As county executive, I do not get to pick the chief. I do get to appoint members of the Police Board. I appointed four new members of the Board, creating a new majority. The Police Board appointed the new chief, Mary Barton, who is the first female police chief our County has ever had. I look forward to working with Chief Barton to build a culture of excellence within the department, and she knows I will tolerate nothing less. I don’t think she will either.

“Chief Barton has a hard job to do, as did Chief Belmar. My job is less to tell you what I “think” of each of them, and more to tell you what I will do to ensure you have the best possible police department. I support a thoughtfully trained police department that is well-staffed, well paid, and accountable for its actions and interactions. I support community policing, and before President Obama challenged police departments to adopt his “8 Can’t Wait” policies, our force had already implemented them. A founder of the Black Lives Matter PAC, under my direction, provided anti-bias training to our police officers. Over three days, he worked with over 250 officers, helping break down biases and teaching strategies to overcome them.

“We must acknowledge that systemic racism exists in the police department, as it does in all levels of government. It is in recognizing it that we can root it out and make needed, and overdue, change.’

Zimmerman said, “I would expect anyone who is Chief of Police to be ready to tackle the tough issues facing our department head‐on, and so far Chief Barton does not appear ready to do so. She is still new on the job and hopefully will be a fast learner in this area. I thought it was appropriate for Chief Belmar to step down when he did.”

What will you do to prevent any more deaths of jail inmates in the St. Louis County Justice Center?

Mantovani said, “We need to improve the intake screening process and make improvements. One idea is to incorporate the use of telemedicine to allow physicians to assist and supervise the nurses currently conducting the assessments. There also should be more coordination with area hospitals. And, a review of the Department of Health is also warranted given the excessive burden being placed on staff and the two acting directors.”

Page said, “Improving the Justice Center has been one of my first priorities, and there is a lot to improve. We believe everyone should be treated with dignity, which is why we want a jail that doesn’t look the other way when inmates are sick. No one should die on our watch. We are overhauling practices and procedures to make sure that happens.

“We are reducing unnecessary incarceration, and have installed cameras in the jail infirmary to help ensure that adequate medical care is provided to inmates who need it. All of the justice center policies are now online, and I encourage anyone who is interested in this topic to read those and provide feedback.

“We stopped the practice of shackling pregnant people in our jails and started providing period products so people didn’t have to make their own. I appointed a civilian board last year to advise officials at the jail and the County Council is actively investigating the inmate meals contract that is currently up for bid.

“We have met with leaders of the ACLU and the MacArthur Justice Center to get their input on improvements, upgraded the technology at the justice center, expanded the library program, and started a new drug and alcohol program.

“All of these things improve the Justice Center, and improve the outcomes of those who are in it.”

Zimmerman said, “I will end the practice of using the jail as a political patronage dumping ground. I will also stop playing “hide the ball” on the issue of jail deaths, as Sam Page has done in denying even his own jail reform commission access to information they need to do their job. Being a county jail inmate should not be a death sentence.”

Should Proposition P sales-tax funds be used as outlined at the time of passage by then Police Chief Jon Belmar?

Mantovani said, “Prop P funds should be utilized SOLELY for expenses that are consistent with the original intent of the proposal. I would execute and fulfill the promises of Proposition P, especially two police officer cars, which will serve to support non-violent dispute resolution and protect officers.”

Page said, “In 2017, voters approved Proposition P to pay for police raises, body cameras, and public safety needs. I still believe we should be spending the money on that. There is over $18m of funds in reserve. We are balancing revenue of Prop P sales tax with expenditures. In 2020, our goal is to keep those funds balanced.

“I don’t think we should defund public safety, and I don’t think we should use Prop P money for something besides what the voters voted for.

“I do think we should have a serious conversation about what is the role, responsibility, and duty of a police officer and whether some of those duties could be accomplished by someone else, whether it’s a social worker or a nurse or some sort of community volunteer. Sometimes the best person to show up to a crisis is not a person with a gun. The evolution of the job description of a police officer has changed greatly in the past decade and there’s a lot of challenges in our community related to substance abuse and mental health. Unfortunately, programs addressing those things have been unfunded or underfunded by state and local government for a long time and the impact of that has impacted public safety. It’s made the job of a police officer much more difficult.”

Zimmerman said, “I believe that voters supported Prop P because they expected the funds would be used for public safety. This money ‐ like all taxpayer funds ‐ must be spent transparently. It is unconscionable that the current administration could not even provide an accounting as to where the money went.”

What will you do to oversee spending from Proposition P?

Mantovani said, “First, I will require an independent audit of all the Prop P receipts and expenditures so the community comes to understand what has gone wrong with the arrangement. Secondly, I will fully participate in requests for Prop P funds and be committed to managing the spending properly in accordance with the original intent of the voters. The County Executive should work collaboratively with the Council to prioritize the use of these funds, which hasn’t always been the case.”

Page said, “I am working with the St. Louis County Council to make sure that we keep Prop P funds balanced. This is at the forefront of all of our minds right now, and it is a group effort.”

Zimmerman said, “I will take a top‐to‐bottom look at Prop P spending thus far and at Prop P spending plans and revenue projections, so we can answer the questions about Prop P spending that the current administration couldn’t or wouldn’t answer. Then we will be guided by the will of the voters, and we will report to the voters regularly.”

What is your opinion of the performance of county Auditor Mark Tucker?

Mantovani said, “While I have never met this person, an objective grade of his performance would have to be an F. In the three years he has held the position and been paid $300K, he has never delivered a single audit. The Prop P funds have been dissipated and no one seems clear on where they’ve been spent. This is clearly within the proper purview of an effective County Auditor. Mark Tucker is a former college friend of the current county executive who single-handedly promoted his hiring. Unfortunately, this is an example of pure cronyism.”

Page said, “The County Council hires the auditor. Auditor Mark Tucker received the votes of all but one County Councilmembers when he was appointed to the position. Mr. Tucker helped to expose former County Executive Stenger’s fraud, and before that had been subject to a great deal of criticism by Stenger. That is why it surprises me that my opponents are choosing to attack him. All of the audits done by Mark Tucker can be found on the auditor’s website, including some of the audits that expose the mismanagement in the Stenger administration. https://www.stlouisco.com/Your-Government/County-Auditor.”

Zimmerman said, “The County deserves an auditor with actual auditing credentials who is not a political crony of the County Executive.”

What are your thoughts on the St. Louis County police? Should the SLCPD be defunded?

Mantovani said, “I oppose the concept of ‘defunding the police.’ Three years ago, St. Louis County residents voted overwhelmingly to expand our community’s investment in the County police force and every survey suggests that residents consider crime to be one of our region’s biggest challenges. The increase in violent crime in St. Louis County has to be challenged. It must not be ignored. Of course, police brutality is also unacceptable and accountability is appropriate. My conversations with police officers reflect a willingness to consider methods of improving their skills, and experimenting with new approaches to training and policing. Simultaneously, it is imperative that we address the longer-term causes of poverty, racial disparities, and other factors that contribute to crime.

Page said, “I don’t think we should zero out our police budgets, and I don’t know anyone who thinks that’s a safe or responsible thing to do. I support a thoughtfully trained police department that is well staffed, well paid, and accountable for its actions and interactions. But it’s also true that today we expect things from our police officers that we didn’t expect of them decades ago. As you know, there are many challenges in our community, like substance abuse and mental health, that could be better managed – but programs that address those challenges have been unfunded or underfunded by state and local government for a long time. That has impacted public safety, and it’s made the job of a police officer much more difficult. We can’t ignore what we have forced these officers to manage, and I think we should have a serious conversation about what is the role, responsibility, and duty of a police officer and whether some of those duties could be accomplished by someone else, whether it’s a social worker, nurse, or some sort of community volunteer.

“We must also recognize the drastically different experiences that our public safety system provides our residents. I support community policing, where officers and the community have a more collaborative relationship. And well before President Obama challenged police departments to adopt his “8 Can’t Wait” policies, our force had already implemented them. A founder of the Black Lives Matter PAC, under my direction, provided anti-bias training to our police officers. Over three days, he worked with over 250 officers, helping break down biases and teaching strategies to overcome them.

“Systemic racism exists in the police department. It exists in all levels of government just as it exists in all levels of society. We must recognize that, and use that knowledge to make changes.

“St. Louis County’s police department must lead by example, and so must the County government. My administration has officially recognized the Ethical Society of Police, and I have appointed four outstanding county residents to create a new majority on the Police Board. This board has appointed a new chief, Mary Barton, the first female police chief our County has ever had. I look forward to working with Chief Barton to build a culture of excellence within the department. I am sure that municipal police departments are reviewing their policies and procedures as well. Change might not happen overnight, but it must happen.”

Zimmerman said, “I oppose defunding the County Police. I support re‐imagining the way we police to achieve better efficiency, better use of law enforcement resources and racial equity in policing. Our citizens are entitled to feel safe and secure in their lives and homes, and proud of the police who serve them.“

What is the biggest issues facing St. Louis County today? What will you do to fix it?

Mantovani said, “Most politicians have proven to be ineffective in creating more economic growth in our region. I believe that if the St. Louis region fails to expand its resources via economic growth, the likelihood that our social inequities will dissipate is low. Therefore, regional leadership MUST simultaneously attack both the community strategies to alleviate social inequities and the process of creating economic and population growth.”

Page said, “In St. Louis County, it is a tie.

“Systemic racism is the biggest issue facing St. Louis County today. It plays out in various forms, but it is at the root of all the fundamental flaws in our community. As County Executive, I’ve insisted that all policy decisions be made through a lens of equity, and that diverse voices are at the table when we make decisions. My commitment is to do all I can to change the course of this County, to make it a place where there is justice for all, equal opportunity for all. But I can’t do it alone. Government can’t do it alone. I’m calling on corporate leaders, faith-based groups, community services clubs, and schools to be all-in when it comes to change.

“Public health, especially surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and addressing health disparities due to race and zip code is our other biggest issue. Before COVID, we watched opioids and gun violence destroy communities. These things all have something in common: Social determinants of health. The social determinants of health are things like systemic racism, housing status, income, access to paid sick and family leave, educational opportunities, the ability to afford healthcare, job opportunities, access to transit… I could go on and on. My administration understands that to improve health outcomes, we have to improve outcomes in all of those things. Those social determinants affect public safety, the economy, and our ability to attract people to our region. This is where we must spend our attention.”

Zimmerman said, “Please see my answer to the first question.”

What are your thoughts on how the current County Council is operating? Should the council have taken more control over coronavirus funds?

Mantovani said, “The County Council engages in too much partisanship and not enough collaboration because there is inconsistency about the role of County government. While our social challenges are crucial, I would like to see the Council focus more on creating economic growth and not get mired in disagreements about partisan social issues that transcend the appropriate scope of County government. The County Council spends too much time focusing on secondary issues and not enough time is spent on the fundamental economic and social issues that restrain our community.

“The administration should have engaged the full County Council and submitted appropriations for prior approval and public oversight of the CARES funding. Good government, oversight, accountability and transparency may not always be convenient, but our form of government should not have compromised. It was an insult, not just to the Council but also to all St. Louis County taxpayers.”

Page said, “The County Council voted to give my administration oversight of the CARES Act funds. In an interview with St. Louis Public Radio, a Councilwoman said that they made this decision in order to make sure the funds could be spent quickly, knowing that gridlock on the Council could slow down much needed services and support.

“We received $173 million in federal grants through the CARES Act. As with any grant, the CARES Act grant funds come with very specific directions on how they can be used. They must be used on COVID-related expenses.They cannot be used to meet any budget shortfall and must be spent by the end of this year or the remaining funds are forfeited. Spending these grant funds efficiently, effectively, and equitably is important so the County budget – and the taxpayers – don’t have to absorb COVID-related costs that would otherwise be covered by these grants.

“I do not believe in unchecked power, and I do think that it is important that the taxpayers know how we are spending this money. We answered this in four ways: The CARES Act Oversight Committee, the Transparency Portal, a participatory budgeting process for $7m of the funds, and an Economic Recovery Team that helps us decide how to spend funding. The Oversight Committee, led by County Councilwoman Kelli Dunaway, has helped guide the spending decisions, including the decision to spend $5m of the grant funds on childcare. The Transparency Portal allows you to see how every dollar of funding is being spent. The participatory budgeting process gives residents of St. Louis County direct input into how $7m of the funds are spent. The Economic Recovery Team is made up of business leaders, labor leaders, and the Heartland St. Louis Black Chamber of Commerce. The Team includes South County residents. We are determined to make the best possible decisions with the Relief funds, and there are a lot of very smart, very capable people helping to make sure that happens. I encourage people to give their feedback and ideas on how this money is spent. When those ideas are good ones – like Lisa Clancy and Kelli Dunaway’s push for childcare funding – we listen and act. This administration believes in checks and balances and in working together.”

Zimmerman said, “I think some of the most important hours I spend on the job as County Executive will be the hours I spend working with the County Council and building a strong working relationship. I was very disappointed to see the Council relinquish its duty to oversee the appropriation of coronavirus relief funds; I would not have asked them to do that. “

What would you implement to prevent corruption and fake contacts on the level of former County Executive Steve Stenger?

Mantovani said, “High integrity public officials and professional procurement procedures will prevent corruption. While elected officials are responsible for overseeing the process, they should not be directly involved in the decision-making. I believe that there is less pay-to-play in contract letting today than there was two years ago. On the other hand, there are far too many political favors and still an aura of cronyism at work in county government with the current administration rewarding friends and punishing enemies. I have a different approach. As county executive, I will stop the pay-offs by overseeing processes that award contracts on merit NOT favors. As the only nonpolitician running, I have the independence to put people, not the well connected, first. I will work for voters, not the insiders.”

Page said, “I became County Executive when Steve Stenger resigned and went to prison. I vividly remember taking down the party lights from the office walls. I led the charge on bringing his corruption to light while my opponents were largely silent, and I have been focusing the County government on making fair and equitable decisions for all residents rather than rewarding political donors. We hired a federal prosecutor as our County Counselor and revisited deals made by Stenger’s administration. My administration relinquished unilateral control of the Port Authority and appointed a group of business leaders to oversee the Economic Development Partnership. We requested an audit of County Government and I have been giving weekly reports to the public. We are also livestreaming County Council meetings. My office released an annual report earlier this year, and in it, you can read about all things we have done to root out and prevent corruption and to be more transparent: https://www.stlouisco.com/Portals/8/docs/document%20library/CountyExecutive/Annual%20Report%20STL%20Co%20FINAL%20030620.pdf.”

Zimmerman said, “See my earlier answers.”

Are you satisfied with the county’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic?

Mantovani said, “No. The outcome in St. Louis County, in terms of rate of infection versus other locations in Missouri, has been only average. There’s been no material innovation and multiple aspects have been problematic:

“Level of preparedness: The county was slow to react in taking action to protect citizens and workers. And it’s remarkable that there was no anticipation of the disparate impact in our various communities.

“No cohesive plan: Municipal governmental leaders were largely left out and there have been too many inconsistencies in restrictions and policies across the region, producing no effective regional strategy and unnecessary confusion.

“Poor communication: The communication from St. Louis County has been frequent enough, but horribly ineffective. Leadership failed to listen and to communicate clearly in helping businesses understand metrics and prepare for re-opening. The failure to communicate effectively has yielded a lack of commitment to adhere to sound practices in many parts of our community.

“Lack of federal aid accountability: Allowing the County Executive authority to spend $173.5 million without legislative oversite reflects a misunderstanding of how good government should work, and consequently, it has created ethical concerns – especially during an election year.

“I would like to compliment the unprecedented level of coordination among our health care institutions that have come together through their own efforts to collaborate in a way that we’ve never seen before in our region.”

Page said, “I am one of those people who is never satisfied. I always believe that I can do better, and every day, I ask myself how I can do that the next day. Your health is still our first priority, as it has been since St. Louis County issued stay-at-home orders earlier than almost everywhere else in the country. We base decisions on medical data from doctors and public health experts. We are spending federal grant funds equitably, allocating over $10 million for homelessness prevention, $5 million for childcare providers, and $2 million for organizations tackling food insecurity. Our High Risk Task Force, a program addressing COVID in nursing homes, is so effective and innovative it’s considered a model program for the country. We are slowly reopening, watching the results, and are being thoughtful, deliberate, and responsive to data and constituents. We strive to improve every day, and aren’t satisfied unless we do.”

Zimmerman said, “No. See the answer to the first question above.”