South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

Zimmerman should focus on his duties, not politics

\Call the Tune\ by Mike Anthony
\”Call the Tune\” by Mike Anthony

We mistakenly believed having an elected county assessor would help increase the accountability and responsiveness of the office. But the reality of having an elected county assessor is a prime example of politics at play.

Jake Zimmerman, a former Democratic state representative, was sworn in as county assessor in April after defeating the Republican nominee, real estate agent L.K. “Chip” Wood.

Shortly after he assumed his $95,000-per-year post, Zimmerman began working to add a trio of leadership positions to his department in a move that he contends will improve its accountability and customer service.

Zimmerman last month announced the hiring of Sara Howard as deputy assessor and director of external affairs — a post that carries an annual salary of $89,000. Howard previously has worked for several Democratic politicians and most recently was campaign spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis.

Since then, Zimmerman has filled the other two positions. Chalana Oliver, a lawyer who was the political director for Zimmerman’s assessor campaign, was hired as director of policy review and community engagement, with an annual salary of $46,760.

Anna Gourdin, Zimmerman’s former legislative assistant in Jefferson City, was hired as constituent services manager at $36,000 a year.

Given the fact that all three new employees either have worked for Zimmerman or have Democratic ties, seldom have we seen such a brazen display of political cronyism. But don’t take our word for it.

County Council Chairman Steve Stenger, a south county Democrat, questions the need for the new posts and also is skeptical of how those jobs were filled. With their Democratic ties, Stenger characterized the new employees as “patronage-slash-political hires.”

When voters were asked to consider making the county assessor an elected position, we’re almost certain how they would have voted if they were told such a move would add more than $250,000 annually to the cost of running the department.

And that cost likely will increase as Zimmerman plans at some point to hire a “chief administrative manager.”

We believe Zimmerman should take a hint from practically every other governmental entity today and learn to do more with less. He was elected to improve the assessment process — not add political cronies to the county payroll — especially when a hiring freeze is in effect.

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