Page declares ‘pay to play is dead’ in St. Louis County with his reform

Pictured above: County Executive Sam Page signs ethics reform executive orders into law Sept. 18 in the county executive’s office. Photo by Erin Achenbach.

By Gloria Lloyd
News Editor
glorialloyd@callnewspapers.com

As his disgraced predecessor was set to head to prison for public corruption last week, County Executive Sam Page announced a series of ethics reforms that, among other things, will require county employees to report corruption or risk being fired.

Page said he believes his reforms are so strong that he went so far as to declare that “pay to play is dead in St. Louis County.”

Page took office April 30 after Stenger resigned April 29 and pleaded guilty May 3 to federal felonies of theft of honest services, bribery and mail fraud. He was set to report Monday to serve four years at a prison camp in Yankton, South Dakota.

As Page signed the ethics orders Sept. 18, he emphasized the fact that he signed the orders at the same desk where Stenger — who he called a “power-hungry, prisonbound man” — “held court during his pay-to-play scheme, stuffing drawers with unsigned contracts until the winning bidder agreed to payoffs.”

The executive orders will:

• Create a code of ethics for county employees.

• Establish a zero-tolerance policy for failure to report corruption.

• Implement a policy to always favor disclosure over closure regarding the Sunshine Law.

• Require a data portal on the county website to provide more access to the public.

Page said the executive orders, along with previous legislation like the whistleblower ordinance he signed into law last month, will create a “zero tolerance policy for corruption in county government” and expand ethics laws in the county to a level that has never before existed.

The symbolism of signing the executive orders at that very desk was intentional. He said the county will invest more resources in responding to Sunshine Law requests.

The executive orders followed an announcement earlier in the week that Page was asking the County Council to ban anyone seeking a county contract from contacting government officials during the bidding process.

Page called the legislation a “cone of silence” law and said it would ban campaign donors and lobbyists from interfering with how the county awards contracts.

“Pay-to-play is dead in St. Louis County, but we have to make sure it never comes back,” Page said in a news release. “This Cone of Silence legislation is one important step in preventing the return of pay-toplay activity and restoring trust in county government.”

The council also had some fun with the name of the new law.

When the council’s first and so far only millennial to serve, 5th District Councilwoman Lisa Clancy, D-Maplewood, asked what the “cone of silence” referred to, 7th District Councilman Mark Harder, R-Ballwin, laughed and said it’s inspired by “Get Smart,” the 1960s television show in which a spy tried to talk to his boss through the “cone of silence.”

“You have to be older than 50 to remember it,” he said.

“I do remember, that was on Nick at Nite,” Clancy said.

“But they’re just using the term figuratively, it’s too expensive for the county to actually buy a cone,” joked Presiding Officer Ernie Trakas, R-Oakville.

Page later said that he had gotten his fair share of ribbing about the terminology he used for the initiative. “I got all kinds of texts, do I have a shoe phone, all that stuff,” he said.