Three candidates are vying in next week’s election to fill the 6th District County Council seat vacated by Steve Stenger after he was elected county executive.
Democrat Kevin O’Leary, Republican Tony Pousosa and Constitution Party candidate Cynthia Redburn are seeking the council seat in Tuesday’s election.
“The first step is to restore the public’s trust. Our county government has recently suffered several corruption scandals. This fraud and cronyism in county government threatens area business growth. We must have a systematic audit process and ethics laws that prevent these scandals in the future. We must restore the public’s trust by enacting policies that promote a fair and competitive bid process and demand our government employees follow the rules,” O’Leary said.
“I believe the most important issue is making sure the best interests of south county residents are protected by holding county government accountable and being transparent. The leadership that I bring to the table will help keep residents informed and keep secretive deals like Oakville HUD (Housing and Urban Development), selling park land and Tesson Ferry Library deals from being repeated,” Pousosa said.
“Transparency in all county government operations,” Redburn said.
O’Leary, 63, 2557 England Town Road, 63129, is a retired restaurant owner. He and his wife, Janet, have two grown children.
O’Leary, who has not held elective office, said he is seeking the 6th District council seat “to provide constituent services and help the area grow and prosper.”
Pousosa, 44, 9700 Antigo Drive, 63123, is an operating-room surgical assistant at Barnes-Jewish Hospital Center for Advanced Medicine. He and his wife, Regina, have two children who attend Lindbergh schools.
Pousosa, who has served on the Green Park Board of Aldermen since 2007, unsuccessfully challenged Democrat Stenger for the 6th District County Council seat in November 2012.
He also unsuccessfully sought his party’s nod in the August primary for county executive.
“I am seeking the 6th District council seat to restore the voice of south county residents,” Pousosa said.
Redburn, 68, 5266 Brass Lantern Place, 63128, is a retired teacher. She and her husband, Alan, have six grown children.
Redburn ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2008 and for the Missouri House District 96 seat in November. She said she is seeking election to the County Council to “offer voters an opportunity to support ideas of smaller government, individual liberty and personal responsibility.”
O’Leary said, “We hold council meetings publicly to host the community as active participants in the governing process. In other words, the council is there to represent the people. If the community wants meetings to be at a different time, then that’s what needs to happen.”
Pousosa said, “Yes, but a better approach would be to move the meeting to 7 p.m. We need to make the council meetings convenient for working constituents that might not be able attend a 6 p.m. meeting.”
Redburn said, “The change to evening meetings was good. A 7 p.m. start time would be better. I would like to see a Saturday meeting once a month.”
O’Leary said, “I would never accept any contributions that would be considered unethical. It is important that our government officials take extra care to restore the public trust.”
Pousosa said, “The fact that this practice is not already prohibited is disturbing, given it is a clear-cut example of a conflict of interest and fosters a pay-to-play system.”
Redburn said, “I am committed to personal donations only — no donations accepted from anyone connected with a special interest.”
O’Leary said, “Helping a community achieve an economy of scale benefit is one of government’s main duties to its constituents. Now that certainly doesn’t mean that I agree with the way the (former County Executive Charlie) Dooley administration handled this issue. Our county government has already been saddled with millions in legal fees and a court-imposed settlement because this program was implemented so hastily. However, right now this policy seems to be working fine. In the future, our county officials need to ensure that our trash program has competitive balance and allows for a fair bidding process.”
Pousosa said, “No, it is a monopoly and takes away consumer choice. I believe that consumers should always have the choice to make personal decisions for themselves.
“This strong-arm, arrogantly implemented program has cost STLCO (St. Louis County) residents millions.”
Redburn said, “Another example of mismanagement, failure to follow procedures and an unresponsive council that has cost county taxpayers millions of dollars.”
O’Leary said, “Under Charlie Dooley’s watch, we saw mismanagement and corruption run rampant. The people of St. Louis County decided that they had had enough, and decided to make a change. In recent months, I’ve had the pleasure to get to know County Executive Steve Stenger quite well. One trait that I know we both share is the courage to stand with our convictions in the face of strong opposition.
“The facts are that without Stenger’s courage and leadership, many of the county’s political scandals would have gone unnoticed and we also would have lost most of south county’s parks system.
“I think Mr. Stenger has a great opportunity to prove the strength of his plan for improving our county. It has only been three months, but I believe he is on the right track, and if elected I will work hard to make sure he stays on track …”
Pousosa said, “Dooley is a decent, very likeable Christian man. However, the county suffered lack of transparency (and) accountability during his tenure as county executive. It is too early yet to grade (County) Executive Stenger’s leadership.”
Redburn said, “Charlie Dooley made good and bad decisions during his tenure.
“Steve Stenger has not served long enough to offer an accurate assessment.”
O’Leary said, “Recent development failures could have been avoided if we would have focused more on listening and communicating with our community. If elected, I would work to develop a new notice policy, ensuring that while not everyone will agree in our government, everyone will be heard in our government.
“I think appointees should serve on the commission for as long as they represent their community. I would be cautious about instituting some type of term limit to their service. When you lose the institutional memory and longevity of experience in development planning, your risk greatly increases for poor development planning.”
Pousosa said, “No. The Oakville HUD (Housing and Urban Development) project and Tesson Ferry Library epitomize the county’s lack of interest in the concerns, wants and needs of the people. More important than term of service should be the special financial interests in matters that come before them. There needs to be a clear distinction of accountability and responsiveness to people.”
Redburn said, “Yes, I believe the commission is responsive. Unfortunately, citizens are often unaware of changes in time to respond. Length of service is not as critical as serving with integrity and impartiality.”
O’Leary said, “We have one of the greatest police forces in the nation, they are internationally accredited, overworked, underpaid, and multi-award winning. Our police force did an incredible and professional job in an impossible situation.
“My view of Ferguson is that it has many politicians running scared and offering Band-Aid style programs that may be politically expedient but only create further financial burdens on taxpayers without long-term results. I believe in fairly protecting our individual rights, but we must also ensure the highest standards of safety for our police and first responders by investment in modern training and equipment.
“Laws must be enforced blindly, fairly, and universally regardless of your race, religion, or economic status; that is the American way. South county taxpayers shouldn’t have to clean up a mess that we didn’t make, but if we can contribute to meaningful infrastructure investment that achieves long-term benefits for all our communities then that must be our goal.”
Pousosa said, “Yes. Response was quick and professional. Ferguson was shown they are not ‘alone’ in the county despite the actions of many outside agitators doing their best to incite violence and create more of a problem.
“However, I think the Ferguson events show a continuing separation of people in the community, but provide an opportunity for leaders across the county to help bring people together to solve the underlying problems in our community.”
Redburn said, “It is easy to be critical as an outsider. Obviously, there are circumstances and situations unknown to the public.
“However, questions remain in my mind and others concerning the looting and arson after the grand jury announcement. It seems that enough notice and personnel were available to prevent the amount of destruction that occurred during the protest/rioting following the grand jury decision.”
O’Leary said, “We need to start with replacing our decayed and outdated economic infrastructure. Area businesses require good roads and rail, and a viable airport to conduct the transportation of their goods and services to market. We also must ensure that our public education system can remain competitive for future generations to enter the workforce.
“Our county government works in cooperation with our St. Louis Community Colleges to provide job-retraining programs. I’d like to see this further expanded so we can continue to field a highly skilled labor force to make our region more attractive to businesses looking to move to the Midwest. For me, our economic development agenda should sound like the phrase from the ‘Field of Dreams’ movie: ‘If we build it, they will come.'”
Pousosa said, “Ending the pay-to-play practice will level the playing field for new start ups to compete and bring new jobs for the community. Streamline permit process.”
Redburn said, “Reduce taxes and uncessary regulations to encourage business development.”
O’Leary said, “Bob took heat over Ferguson. He didn’t do what he thought would be the best thing politically, or what would make people happy, he did what he thought was right, despite very politically charged opposition. He stood tall, and I stand with him and his decision.”
Pousosa said, “I think County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch is a decent and respectable man. He handled the case in fair and just way. No evidence has surfaced to date to contraindicate McCulloch’s handling of the Wilson case. Other inquiries and investigations have validated the grand jury’s decision.”
Redburn said, “While I have no doubts concerning McCulloch’s competency in prosecuting the case, recusing himself may have been wiser, considering the circumstances.”
O’Leary said, “I think it was obvious the notification process needed to be changed. It is vital that our community be involved in the process of governance, to make sure the community is aware of what is going on, and directly involved. By improving the use of technology in the notification process, I believe future public hearings will be more productive.”
Pousosa said, “Yes. I would continue to insist on the following measures to make sure county residents receive proper notification by using the county website, sending emails, mailers (for those seniors or residents that do not have email), notification in local newspapers — the Call newspaper, et cetera. Not St. Louis Countian — or town-hall meetings if (an) issue would impact many people.”
Redburn said, “I do approve the recent changes. Additional signage in high-traffic areas within a mile of the proposed site might increase public awareness.”
O’Leary said, “We must learn from their mistakes with how this development was mishandled. The Dooley administration was responsible for proper notification on the public hearing and that was a disaster. Because they refused to accept responsibility for their mistakes, the process could not be reversed. I will ensure better communication for public notice of any new developments in our community. This could have been avoided if new technologies were employed with communication of public hearings.”
Pousosa said, “No. Proper and highly visible signage on appropriate sites as well as public notification by mail and announcements in mainstream papers should have been the course of action. Moreover, projects of this size should result in a Planning Commission Meeting being held in the area involved, not in Clayton, in order to include the affected residents.”
Redburn said, “The county followed the notification procedures in place. The recent changes made will improve the process, but it will still require the attention and oversight of citizens of pending changes.”
O’Leary said, “While I don’t support any version of the city/county merger, or legislation that would unduly burden St. Louis County with the city problems, I do support initiatives that would benefit both the city and the county. Google Fiber, for example, would provide tech sector job growth and an economic boom to both the city and the county, without any negative impact on the county.”
Pousosa said, “No. The name ‘Better Together’ is a statement, not a question begging study. The county supports many things jointly with the city now. We in the County already support the following — a non-exhaustive list: Museum District (Art, History and Science Museums; Botanical Gardens and Zoo), Solid Waste Management, Metro, St. Louis Community College, Lambert Airport, Edward Jones Dome, Busch Stadium, Great Rivers Greenway (public-private partnership) and many, many more.
“And then there are questions that swirl but seem to remain largely unanswered by this group thus far. For example, where will the county get the money to replace one third of the city’s annual budget if the two entities unite in some way? The important and real question exists as to the legality of the city continuing its Earnings Tax — $186 million/year — and accompanying Payroll Tax — $45 million/year — in the event of a merger or re-entry. The county is not without its financial and housekeeping issues and the city has been fraught with these problems on a larger scale for decades.
“I am opposed to the county taking on city debts and/or obligations. In short, combining — diluting — problems is no way to solve them.”
Redburn said, “On the surface, it looks good. However, I have some concerns on the roots and underlying goals for the organization. I support smaller government units and a merger and consolidation move further away from local control.”
O’Leary said, “As I stated earlier, I am vehemently opposed to a city/county merger. We must keep our tax dollars in our own communities. St. Louis County has plenty of its own problems to solve right now and we need to address those without the additional problems of the city.”
Pousosa said, “No, a taxpayer bailout from the county to the city does not address the city’s problems. Furthermore, a merger, re-entry or reunification would be much like signing a blank mortgage, with the costs to be filled in later. Those costs easily surpass $500 million for courthouse, roads, health department. A partnership implies that a mutually beneficial relationship would exist, that both city and county would have something to gain and something to give by entering into such an arrangement.
“Until that case can be made, I recommend large-scale audits to determine where best to trim the now more than $1 billion city budget.”
Redburn said, “No, not at this time. The city needs to get its house in order before any merger could be seriously considered ”
O’Leary said, “We need a systematic audit process and ethics laws that prevent these scandals in the future. The Department of Health’s recent embezzlement scandal was a perfect example of a lack of transparency and a failure of proper financial safeguards. We need accountability and real consequences from those who violate our trust. If elected, I will fight to make sure that every dollar is accounted for, through countywide audits, and policies that provide public transparency in local government.”
Pousosa said, “All contractors and vendors should have to submit a financial disclosure along with their quotes and bids for goods and services to the county before approval or award of contracts. As a candidate, I had to submit such a form to ensure my position, if won, would not present a conflict of interest and/or risk favors given or received as a result of my position. Contractors and suppliers should not be treated any differently.”
Redburn said, “More layers of accountability within departments and increased in-house auditing are my top proposals.”
O’Leary said, “I don’t agree with the way the Tesson Library was handled, and if elected I will fight to ensure that any project supported by the county will represent the interests of the community, not those of the council or big business. That being said, the branch was the oldest library in the county system, built in 1958, and needed to move into the future to stay competitive. I believe in our public library system, it is a great community resource, and I support initiatives to provide a better library service to the community.”
Pousosa said, “No. Input from community residents was not accepted or received. As alderman, I fought the move of the library because millions of our tax dollars were being spent without addressing any of traffic safety concerns. In the end, the Board of Directors did as it pleased and our tax dollars were diverted into pockets with a sweetheart real estate deal. Lastly, all county executive-appointed boards need to be accountable to the council and citizens to ensure proper behavior and safeguarding of taxpayer dollars.”
Redburn said, “The Tesson Ferry Branch relocation was misrepresented to the people and the board was unresponsive to concerns.”
O’Leary said, ” I would’ve backed Councilman O’Mara’s bill requiring skilled labor standards. We must have properly trained and qualified workers building our public works projects. Without those safeguards, it’s just another loophole for cronyism.”
Pousosa said, “I would give consideration to O’Mara version.”
Redburn said, “Both bills push special-interest hiring over hiring people who are qualified for the position. Qualification and competency should be the standard.”
O’Leary said, “I feel that any failure to keep our citizens informed and to make sure they have a voice is a serious problem, and a failure of government. We need to review and change our policies that keep citizens from being involved in the governing process. As far as the playing the blame game, I’ll leave that to the political opportunists. What we must do now is realize where this project went seriously wrong was not in its development but with its proper notification to the surrounding community. This is why I will ensure better communication for public notice of any future developments in our community.”
Pousosa said, “There was not proper and highly visible signage on appropriate sites as well as public notification by mail and announcements in mainstream papers. Projects of this size being built right on top of the Goddard School should have resulted in a Planning Commission meeting or town-hall being held in the area involved, not in Clayton, in order to include the affected residents. I believe in helping and support those in need. However, the lack of transparency, lack of communication and secrecy with this project suppresses the voices of the south county residents.”
Redburn said, “The location is not suitable for residential housing. Councilman Stenger flip-flopped on this issue, which always causes concerns and questions.”