An Oakville attorney and a former state representative from Lemay are vying in the Tuesday, Nov. 8, election for the 6th District County Council seat being vacated by Kevin O’Leary, D-Oakville.
Republican Ernie Trakas, who has not held elective office, is challenging Democrat Pat Yaeger, who served four two-year terms in the Missouri House, to succeed O’Leary, who is not seeking re-election. O’Leary defeated Republican Tony Pousosa and Constitution Party candidate Cynthia Redburn in the April 2015 election to fill the seat vacated by Steve Stenger, who was elected county executive in November 2014.
Stenger backed O’Leary’s bid for the council seat, and is supporting Yaeger in the November election.
Both Trakas and Yaeger pledge to be responsive to south county residents, in stark contrast to O’Leary, who has not spoken with constituents or the media in months.
O’Leary has faced a barrage of criticism from south county residents, as he has advanced legislation to approve a 232-unit apartment complex proposed at Tesson Ferry and Bauer roads. The proposal was sent back to the county Planning Commission after an attorney representing thousands of residents opposed to the project uncovered possible zoning violations.
Trakas has been at the forefront of the opposition to the apartment project, called “21Bauer.” Yaeger initially declined to take a stance on the proposal, but now says that she “would likely oppose” the project unless affected residents’ concerns are addressed.
Asked to identify the most important issue in the race, the candidates responded:
“The foremost issue facing District 6 voters is the complete lack of independent, honest, responsive and accountable representation of District 6 residents on the County Council,” Trakas said. “The reason is obvious, as the Call recently opined, District 6 residents have been effectively disenfranchised and unrepresented on the council.”
“The single most important issue is that residents need to be heard and listened to by their county councilperson,” Yaeger said. “Residents need to have confidence that they can call their councilperson and that their call will be taken and responded to, and their opinions will be heard.”
Trakas, 66, 3900 Butler Hill Road, 63129, is an attorney with Mickes O’Toole LLC.
His wife, Lori, served on the Mehlville Board of Education from 2013 to 2016. He has a college-age daughter.
“I am running to restore a truly independent, assertive voice for the residents of District 6 on the County Council,” he said.
Yaeger, 74, 729 Reed Ave., 63125, is retired. She has three adult children.
Yaeger served in the Missouri House from 2002 to 2010, when she could not seek re-election because of term limits.
“I want to serve on the County Council because serving in local government provides an opportunity to have the greatest positive impact on people’s lives and influence on our community,” she said.
The candidates gave the following responses to a Call questionnaire:
Trakas said, “No.”
Yaeger said, “I will not accept campaign contributions from developers with projects pending in the 6th District. The reason for not doing so is not because any such contribution would have an effect on my decision on a project, because it would not. The reason for not accepting such contributions is to avoid any appearance of impropriety.”
Trakas said, “District 6 residents that will be directly impacted if this project is approved have legitimate and substantive concerns. These citizens have spoken uniformly and resoundingly against the project. I have and will continue to support their opposition to this development.”
Yaeger said, “I would likely oppose this development unless the concerns of affected residents are adequately addressed. The project seems incompatible with the single-family housing surrounding the site. Real questions exist concerning additional traffic the development would place on Bauer Road. This project is a textbook example of one where the Planning Commission and the council should listen to the residents and make sure the developer sufficiently addresses their legitimate concerns, and if not, the project should be denied.”
Trakas said, “It is an elected official’s obligation to be accessible and responsive to constituents’ concerns. So, of course, every telephone call from District 6 residents will be returned, and every email will receive a reply. Similarly, I will respond to questions from the media about county business.”
Yaeger said, “Yes. Being responsive to constituents’ communications is the most important work of a councilperson. You are elected to serve the constituents and to be available to them. Being accessible and responsive to my constituents will be my No. 1 priority. Similarly, it is important for a councilperson to keep his/her constituents informed through the media. Communicating with the media also ensures transparency.”
Trakas said, “No.”
Yaeger said, “While I do not agree with every position County Executive Stenger has taken during his first 20 months in office, I believe he has, overall, done a solid job. He has shown an independence and decisiveness that is not often seen in elected officials. As a state representative, I was not afraid to oppose the governor. An example of this was his declaring a state of emergency in the recent Ferguson unrest.
“If elected, I hope to have a good working relationship with the county executive, but will not be afraid to oppose him when our opinions differ.”
Trakas said, “I support the right of residents to determine their own path, including incorporating if they choose to do so.”
Yaeger said, “I do not support any further effort to incorporate St. Louis County. Incorporation would only add another layer of government and increase everyone’s taxes located in the area incorporated. Many of the 90 municipalities that currently exist are facing economic problems or barely surviving and their residents are overtaxed. The last time south county residents voted on this issue, incorporation was soundly defeated.”
Trakas said, “No, the commission is not responsive to residents. Terms for appointees should be no longer than two years and staggered.”
Yaeger said, “The role of the Planning Commission is to provide recommendations and advice on matters to the planning director and County Council. In forming its recommendations, the commission must take into consideration current zoning laws, but equally important, the commission must listen to the concerns and opinions of the residents affected. In my opinion, the commission has, at times, not given appropriate weight to the concerns of residents. As councilperson, I would only vote to confirm proposed commission members who I am satisfied would listen to residents’ concerns and place great importance on them.
“I do not believe in setting term limits on commission members. Members should be able to serve as long as they faithfully represent the community. Limiting the time a commisison member may serve will have the same effect term limits in the Missouri Legislature have had — a loss of institutional memory and experience and greater reliance on bureaucrats.”
Trakas said, “I agree with the move to evening meetings. The start time should be changed to 7 p.m. This change will foster greater attendance and engagement by county residents at council meetings.”
Yaeger said, “I agree with and support the council’s 2001 decision to change its meetings to the evening. The change has made it more convenient for residents to attend council meetings and has opened the meetings to more residents. I also have no objection to moving the council meetings to 7 p.m.”
Trakas said, “I do not support the trash-district program. The selection of a trash-removal vendor should be returned to the residents in any given area. The county has lost significant sums of money as a result of litigation stemming from the county’s failure to property notify trash-removal companies of the proposed change. So, obviously the implementation could definitely been handled better.”
Yaeger said, “The county’s trash-district program is now working very well and I support it. It has resulted in lower trash-hauling costs for our residents and has reduced the number of trash trucks on our neighborhood streets. However, the manner in which the program was implemented was wrong and cost the county millions in legal fees and a court-imposed settlement. Process matters, as does getting input from county residents. Both were missing in the enactment and implementation of the trash-district program.”
Trakas said, “Given the nature of the situation as it evolved over several days, including no clear chain of command above the county level, the St. Louis County Police and the government responded appropriately with the information available to them.”
Yaeger said, “I am proud of the men and woman who serve in the St. Louis County Police Department. We have one of the greatest police forces in the nation. They are internationally accredited, overworked and underpaid. They operate in a very difficult environment and they responded bravely and admirably under the extraordinary circumstances of Ferguson.”
Trakas said, “I will press for a comprehensive review and revision of Planning Commission processes and procedures. I will work to reduce regulations and hold the line on tax increases. Finally, I will support the creation of business/entrepreneur/workforce opportunity zones.”
Yaeger said, “Building, replacing or enhancing our current infrastructure is an important step in fostering an environment conducive to attracting and maintaining businesses. When I speak of infrastructure, I am not only talking about our roads, bridges, airport and rail, but public Wi-Fi available to everyone and workforce training, especially in south county, that provides the skilled workforce businesses are seeking. I will propose that we concentrate our county resources in a manner that will bring our infrastructure into the 21st Century.
“I also believe that county government must provide a good climate for business. This means streamlining the permitting process and making more services available online.”
Trakas said, “If elected, I will call for a comprehensive review of the Planning Commission. The current notification process fails to effectively advise residents of proposed changes to zoning and/or proposed development(s). Direct mail notification should be sent to all residents within a 2-mile radius of any proposed project. In addition, notifications should be published in the applicable local newspapers, such as the Call.”
Yaeger said, “I fully support the changes made in the notification process for public hearings by the Planning Commission. Any steps we can take to provide better notice to citizens of the activities of our government is a good thing. As technology advances, there may be additional changes we can make to the notification process to make it even better.”
Trakas said, “The total breakdown of the notification process of the NCR project conclusively demonstrates that district residents did not receive effective and appropriate notification. The plain truth is that the concerns and interests of District 6 residents were never a priority and not important to the Planning Commission or the County Council.”
Yaeger said, “I do not believe Oakville residents received timely notification on this project. The Dooley administration was responsible for proper notification on the public hearing and it failed. That failure is why changes were subsequently made to the process — see my response to the previous question — and I support those changes.”
Trakas said, “No. I oppose any city-county merger by whatever name is attributed to it.”
Yaeger said, “I do not support a merger of the county and the city. The county and the city already make efforts to cooperate in areas where it makes sense. A good example of this cooperation is the St. Louis Economic Partnership. Both the county and the city fund the partnership, which is charged with economic development in both jurisdictions.”
Trakas said, “I do not and will not support any such merger. Why should hard-working, taxpaying St. Louis County residents pay for decades of fiscal irresponsibility by St. Louis city government?”
Yaeger said, “I oppose a reunification of St. Louis County and St. Louis city. A merger would not be in the best interest of St. Louis County residents and businesses. It would be nothing more than a bailout of a mismanaged, crime-ridden city. I will strongly oppose any effort to merge the county and the city.”
Trakas said, “I do not believe the relocation was handled properly. Residents’ concerns were ignored because the decision was made in advance, prior to and without any interest in considering the residents’ position. This is yet another instance of a governing body, in this case the library board, treating residents as subjects instead of citizens.”
Yaeger said, “No. The library board and staff failed to property notify residents and the County Council of the proposed relocation and, from my review, failed to address residents’ concerns.”
Trakas said, “Of course I have concerns. This is yet another indication of the need for improved leadership in the council. Lawsuits are expense, good legislation is not.”
Yaeger said, “As a general rule, the council should only pass legislation it believes, in good faith and after consultation with attorneys, can withstand a legal challenge. However, sometimes there are close calls and it is necessary to let the courts decide. This is how our system is designed to work.
“The council should never allow itself to be paralyzed from taking action that is in the best interest of St. Louis County out of fear that a lawsuit may be filed. If we did, we would never accomplish anything. We live in a society where people liberally file lawsuits. The county, like many businesses and individuals, is often forced to defend suits that have questionable merit.”
Trakas said, “Yes, I do support this transfer. This is not only necessary, but proper and appropriate to honor those veterans — heroes and patriots all — who served and sacrificed so that we enjoy the freedoms and liberties we do.”
Yaeger said, “I fully support turning over part of Sylvan Springs Park to the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery. First and foremost, it is the least we can do for the brave men and women who sacrifice so much to defend our freedom. The portion of the park that is to be turned over is not currently used and the federal government will pay the county a fair market value for the property. We must do this for our veterans.”
Trakas said, “First and foremost, I want to restore effective, accountable representation of District 6 on the council. Other aspects in need of improvement include: fiscal responsibility; council input in the formation of and appointment to boards and commissions; Planning Commission processes and procedures; oversight of waste, corruption and abuse of taxpayer funds; (and) control over expanding and redundant regulation.”
Yaeger said, “I would like to improve the services county government offers to its seniors. Our population is aging and we need to be prepared to help those who lack resources. I would also like to see a higher concentration of workforce development and job creation for south county residents.”