Page asks for more money; council holds for months

Pictured above: County Executive Sam Page at a council meeting last summer before he became St. Louis County executive. Photo by Jessica Belle Kramer.

By Gloria Lloyd
News Editor
glorialloyd@callnewspapers.com 

Web Exclusive Update: The County Council voted to approve the supplemental appropriation Tuesday 5-0. Look for the expanded story in a future print edition of The Call and on our website.

At the same time the St. Louis County Council is debating how much County Executive Steve Stenger cost the county, new County Executive Sam Page is asking for more money for salaries for his employees than Stenger used.

One government watchdog, Tom Sullivan of University City, calls the request for a $607,091 supplemental appropriation “Sam Page’s pork proposal.” He said many of the jobs in Page’s office were unnecessary under Stenger and are unnecessary now.

Even after Page cut his request to $539,277, his request has been hanging at the council for months because two council members are hesitant to give him more money, said council Presiding Officer Ernie Trakas, R-Oakville. With five members, the council needs four votes to pass any legislation.

Trakas believed the plan would come to a final up-or-down vote Tuesday — after The Call went to press.

Page first asked for the money in a May 10 letter to the council. He wrote he was “learning the extent of my predecessor’s mismanagement” and the office “is a mess.”

He went on to ask for more money. First, he said some salaries didn’t match with what they’re supposed to be paid. Second, he pointed to a $163,218 budget cut the council imposed in the 2019 budget for the county executive’s office. Although Page spearheaded those budget cuts when he served as council chairman before taking over after Stenger resigned and pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges, he said they’re hindering his ability to hire.

Third, he said that longtime county employees he had forced out along with Stenger had to be paid large amounts for accumulated paid time off and sick leave.

The recipient of most of that money is Stenger’s Chief of Operations Glenn Powers, who had worked for the county for decades as the director of the Department of Planning before moving to the county executive’s office. Powers got most of the $154,867 in payoffs for sick leave, plus $43,621 to the retirement plan and $16,654 to Social Security, for a total of $211,828 that had to be handed over for those employees’ retirements.

Page also said that the chief of staff position was funded through the Department of Revenue rather than the proper office, which merits part of the increase.

“I have made several key appointments to my senior staff who will allow us to move forward as we work to restore this government into the high-performing organization it once was,” Page said.

But while some council members don’t want to hand over money to him just yet, Trakas said he thinks the need is genuine and will vote “yes” for more money for the office, “particularly given the catastrophe that he walked into.”

The bigger discussion around money should take place during 2020 budget talks, which will start in October.

“This is not the place to fight a battle of fiscal responsibility, that is in the budget that is coming in the fall,” Trakas said. “The council will delve into that deeply, as it’s done for the last two years. The idea that somehow we’re going to hold this up to me is just politics.”

But Sullivan said the jobs Page has hired people to fill are nebulous, and past county executives made do with less. As one example, former County Executive Charlie Dooley had fewer communications people.

“It isn’t known how many people are working in the county executive’s office. It isn’t known what all of them do. It isn’t known from what departments they are even being paid,” he told the council June 25. “… It is known that Steve Stenger had too many people on the county payroll, including his own office. It is known that hiring Hazel Erby for a job in a county executive’s office that previously didn’t exist will add $121,000 a year. The council has gotten into trouble in the past for approving matters when it doesn’t know all that is involved. This could be another instance.”