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Missouri Senate finally OKs Irwin as member of St. Louis Police Board

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 12, 2011 - The Missouri Senate finally approved the nomination of Thomas Irwin on Wednesday to the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners. But his successful appointment could be moot if legislation abolishing the board becomes law.

Gov. Jay Nixon nominated Irwin to fill a term on the five-person board; the governor appoints four of the members. Irwin is to serve until Jan. 31, 2015.

But Irwin's appointment had been held up by Sen. Robin Wright-Jones, D-St. Louis, who maintained in several interviews with the Beacon that she had been improperly left out of the behind-the-scenes talks involving Irwin. 

Irwin had been nominated, in part, because city officials and the St. Louis Police Commissioners both viewed him as a compromise candidate in the city's quest for legislative approval of local control of the police department, and the officers' effort to gain a long-sought collective bargaining agreement.

But the Police Board acted Tuesday, without Irwin, to approve the collective bargaining agreement. And the legislative fight for local control -- which Wright-Jones supports -- is now stymied by an unrelated battle over state tax credits.

As a result, Wright-Jones said Wednesday she didn't see the point of proceeding with Irwin's nomination. "Why are we doing this? Why don't we wait until we do something with local control," Wright-Jones said, after his Senate approval. "To put him now -- for whatever purposes, I don't know what those are -- nobody has explained that to me."

Wright-Jones said if the local control bill goes into effect, then Irwin's nomination would be a "moot point" since the Police Board would be replaced by a different body.  But if the bill doesn't pass, Wright-Jones said she opposes having Irwin replace Dr. Michael L. Gerdine, who she would prefer remains on the board

Ultimately she decided to drop her objection to Irwin because he was supported by her colleague, Sen. Joe Keaveny,   D-St. Louis.

Keaveny issued a statement after the vote. "I am pleased that the Senate has confirmed the appointment of this qualified individual to the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners," Keaveny said. "He is a dedicated and hard-working Missouri citizen, and I know he will bring both enthusiasm and valuable experience to the board, while serving the St. Louis Police Department and the people of St. Louis to the best of his abilities."

Irwin is executive director of Civic Progress and has served in a variety of public-policy postsin the St. Louis area for more than 25 years.

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.