As St. Louis County Executive Sam Page was being sworn in for his first elected term in office Jan. 12, he referenced the national political atmosphere and called for St. Louis County to come together: “In recent years, our nation has been divided by hatred, hostility and ignorance, and last week, that division almost tore us apart. … Let us put the dark days of division behind us. Let us put an end to the bitter politics of the past.”
That’s a message anyone can get behind, right? But it comes as no surprise to anyone who has watched the St. Louis County Council over the past few years that the council reached new levels of discord that very night, this time with an argument among its seven members over who will serve as this year’s council chair and vice chair. The county may have reached a new low in divisiveness with a lawsuit against itself over its own leadership, something we didn’t think was possible after the federal corruption case of former County Executive Steve Stenger.
Due to a county Charter change, officeholders will be sworn in on the second Tuesday rather than Jan. 1.
But 2020’s chair, Lisa Clancy, held a meeting and leadership elections Jan. 5, before Shalonda Webb took office Jan. 12. Webb defeated Rochelle Walton Gray in the Democratic primary, but Gray voted for Clancy as chair and Ernie Trakas as vice chair. County Counselor Beth Orwick, a Page appointee, backs them.
The opposing faction, which now holds a 4-3 vote with Webb on board, elected Rita Days as chair Jan. 15, with Mark Harder as vice chair. A lawsuit was filed the next day, a Saturday, by Orwick’s office.
Former Councilwoman Colleen Wasinger, who retired after 12 years in 2019 and also served on the Charter Commission, noted that logic dictates that holding the first meeting Jan. 12 would have resolved any legal issue.
But as usual, there’s no logic in Clayton. A judge may decide who wins this election, but there are no winners here. Only in St. Louis County could the council sometimes resemble a kindergarten or a daycare more than a government body. Perhaps the Charter should be changed to require every member to read “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.”