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Labor, police group upset over Dooley's appointment of Spence to police board

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 23, 2013: Bob Soutier, president of the Greater St. Louis Labor Council, says that St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley has run afoul of labor because he has appointed Republican Dave Spence to the county’s police board.

In fact, Soutier says, Dooley, a Democrat, may be endangering any labor support in his re-election bid in 2014.  “It very well may,’’ the labor leader said. “Absolutely.”

Soutier explained that he was stunned that Dooley would choose Spence, who in his 2012 bid for governor, “spent $6 million of his own money traveling the state bashing unions and proposing ‘right to work.’ “

Soutier said he didn’t understand why Dooley didn’t at least give labor a heads up. “I would have told him that this was a terrible appointment,’’ he said. “I’m very disappointed.”

“We didn’t get a call or anything,’’ the labor leader said.

He then added sarcastically, “They call when they have fundraisers.”

Dooley replied in a statement, “I have a strong track record of supporting St. Louis labor and nothing about that has changed. I do not support 'right to work' and never have. I will put my record of support for labor up against anyone’s."

"I haven’t run potential appointees past interest groups before," the county executive added, saying that Spence's view on "right to work'' wasn't relevant. "The Police Board does not negotiate any labor contracts for St. Louis County so his stance on labor is irrelevant," Dooley said.

Meanwhile, the St. Louis County Police Officers Association also has raised complaints about the appointment of Spence and of the Rev. Freddie Clark, who is taking a Democratic slot.

In the association’s case, the issue is the timing of the appointments, which were announced Thursday. "The whole process needs to be looked at," said Association President Gabe Crocker.

“Police Board members have access to confidential and sensitive police information, yet, they currently do not undergo a background check or any type of vetting process about their current or past business and personal dealings.”

He cited the conflict-of-interest accusations that had prompted the recent resignations of two Police Board members, Greg Sansone and Floyd Warman.

Crocker also raised concerns that the new appointees might be part of a move by Dooley to replace Police Chief Tim Fitch.

Spence said that he had no intention of pushing to replace Fitch. “That doesn’t make any sense,’’ Spence said, adding that the matter hasn’t even come up. He said that his limited dealings with Fitch so far have been very positive.

Spence said he was "simply an honest citizen who raised his hand'' when it appeared that the Police Board needed help because of the recent vacancies. Spence said he first approached board member Ray Wagner, husband of U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, and volunteered to serve on the board.

As for Soutier’s complaint, Spence said that his views on “right to work” – which would bar closed-union shops – had nothing to do with police officers.  “This is not an issue that would even come up on the police board,’’ Spence said.

Spence contended that labor leaders are “using me to get into a broader political fight with Dooley.”

Meanwhile, Dooley sought to reaffirm his independence.

"I have been accused in the media of cronyism and rewarding friends and allies; now I’m being criticized because I didn’t consider political allies and relationships in this appointment process," Dooley said. "The bottom line is we have two outstanding candidates up for consideration for this critical Board. I urge the (County) Council to approve both nominations.”

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.