Trakas dismisses legislative aide

Ernie Trakas

Photo by Clark Woolsey

Ernie Trakas

By Gloria Lloyd

Sixth District County Councilman Ernie Trakas, R-Oakville, is answering the phones in his own office after firing his legislative assistant because they did not see eye to eye.

Trakas dismissed his legislative assistant Carmen Wilkerson May 11 due to a disagreement in philosophy and vision, he said.

Affton resident and former St. George Mayor Wilkerson campaigned for mayor of her small city in 2011 on a platform of disincorporating it and succeeded.

Wilkerson was employed by the county from the day Trakas was sworn in, Jan. 1, to May 11, according to County Clerk Genevieve Frank.

“I decided that I needed to make a change,” Trakas said. “I just felt that a change was the best thing for me and for District 6. There was certain criteria that I had established from Day One that I wanted my assistant to do and how to operate.

“After several conversations over the course of 4.5 months, it was clear to me that it was not going to happen. So I felt that I needed to go in a different direction,” he added.

Wilkerson agreed with the Call that her vision for serving 6th District constituents did not coincide with Trakas’ idea of how that should get accomplished.

“I envisioned the job to be of service to the residents of District 6, to make government work for them, not against them,” she said. “As it turned out, the councilman and I do have very different philosophies regarding public service.”

She had difficulty with basic tasks of the job because Trakas did not like the fact that she had a good working relationship with county department heads and their employees, who he views as adversaries, she said.

“Ernie often admonished me for ‘being too friendly with the other side,'” meaning county employees, she said.

“I certainly did not view and do not view county employees as adversaries,” Trakas said. “I categorically deny it. Nothing’s further from the truth.”

The 6th District legislative assistant has typically acted as a spokesperson for the council member, but Wilkerson did not take that role.

Instead, she said, she struggled to defend Trakas’ position on a series of issues since he took office.

Among those issues were the Great Rivers Greenway extension of the trail in Cliff Cave Park in Oakville, an April vote rejecting a new bridge in Eureka, and, referencing the proposed move of McManus Construction Co. from Affton to Oakville, his “determination to disrupt and delay zoning approval for local businesses when there was no opposition to the proposed zoning from his constituents.”

During his campaign, Trakas promised to be responsive and communicate with residents of the 6th District better than past council members, and he said the move away from Wilkerson is a step toward that goal.

“There were clearly communication problems that I was not comfortable with and after addressing them quite frankly over several meetings, over 4.5 months, I said we’re going to change,” he said. “It’s something that’s important to me, and I need to have that. And I didn’t feel like I was getting it.”

At the time the Call went to press, Trakas had not yet hired anyone for the position and said he wanted to take his time sorting through applications to find the best fit for the job.

“I’m not going to make a hasty decision, I want it to be the right one,” he said. “I want to pick someone that I think I can go the long haul with and that understands and is on the same page as me.”

He will look for “someone that better understands their role and is more supportive. That’s the broad-stroke version. I just want someone who understands their role as I’ve given it to them and is comfortable doing it.”

In the meantime, residents who call into his office will get a direct line to the councilman.

“They’re getting me. I was there every day last week, I’ll probably be there every day this week,” Trakas said. “Every call is getting returned, as they have been since the beginning, or I’ll have the appropriate county personnel contact them.”