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Council delays vote on Dooley's police board nominees

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 27, 2013 - On the same day the interim chairman of the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners announced his intention to step down, the St. Louis County Council delayed a vote to approve two new members to the embattled panel.

Councilmembers decided on a 4-2 vote to hold off on the nominations of Republican Dave Spence and Democrat Freddy Clark to the five-person board. Spence – a Ladue businessman who was the GOP nominee for governor last year – replaces Gregory Sansone, who resigned last week. Clark replaces Floyd Warmann, who stepped down from the board earlier this month.

When he announced the nominations last week, St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley had asked the council to expedite approval of the appointments. But Councilman Steve Stenger, D-Affton, said he wanted to proceed slowly, especially since the council was considering legislation requiring background checks of appointees.

“This is by no means a reflection on the gentlemen who are here today,” Stenger said. “But we have had in the last 45 days three members of our police board resign under different circumstances. They may be related. They may be not. I have no idea at this point. And I think that under those circumstances, I would urge that we proceed with caution.”  

Councilman Greg Quinn, R-Ballwin, said he agreed with Stenger. But he also said he wanted his constituents to have input on the nominations.

“It doesn’t have any reflection on these two members,” Quinn said. “But I also want to give the people in my district an opportunity to have input … on matters that are pending in front of us.”

The police board has been under intense scrutiny since the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published a series of articles examining a subcontract for heating and air conditioning construction for St. Louis County’s new crime lab. The paper reported that the county awarded a contract to ICS Construction Service, which then awarded a subcontract to SM Mechanical LLC for $3.7 million worth of heating and air conditioning work. Sansone is an owner of SM Mechanical LLC.

In his letter of resignation, Sansone wrote that Dooley’s proposal to include subcontractors in the county’s conflict of interest policy prompted him to step down from the board.

The delay of the pair’s approval came hours after board member Ray Wagner announced he was leaving the board. Wagner – an executive at Enterprise and husband of U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin – said he would depart from the board by the end of September.

Several people at the committee hearing – including Council Chairwoman Kathleen Burkett, D-Overland – expressed concern that delaying the nominees could mean the police board wouldn’t have a quorum.

"Even if the council confirms today, they have 20 days before they officially take their office," Burkett said. "We do run into the possibility ...  that you will only have two members sitting on the police board. That's something that we do really need to take into consideration."

Stenger disagreed.

“They have a quorum on the police commission now,” he said. “Ray Wagner has resigned effective Sept. 25, so they’ll have a quorum until then. And I just think that the circumstances need to be examined appropriately. And I would urge caution.”

For his part, Dooley said he was disappointed with the council’s decision.

“I think it’s unfortunate, but I stand behind those two very fine men that I nominated,” Dooley said. “I hope they’ll [approve the nominations] in the very near future or the next couple of weeks.”

Asked about his reaction to Wagner's stepping down, Dooley said, “He’s a good person, but his resignation is about his business.”

“And I respect that,” Dooley said. “We talked about this some time ago and we knew this was coming.”

Dooley said Wagner's slot on the commission would be filled "in the near future." In the meantime, Councilman Mike O'Mara, D-Florissant, sent Dooley a letter indicating that Thomas Malecek "had expressed an interest in serving on the board." Malecek -- a Town and Country resident -- is a former member of the St. Louis County Police Department.

"I believe Mr. Malecek is a person of integrity and his background and professional experience would prove to be an asset to St. Louis County," O'Mara wrote.

Stenger -- who provided the letter to reporters for O'Mara -- emphasized that if Dooley picks Malecek, he would go through the background checks within the proposed ordinance.

"He would be subject to everything," Stenger said. "That’s not someone we would want to move over immediately. We would want him to go through the entire process as well."

Spence, Clark go with the flow

Both Spence and Clark told the Beacon that they weren’t alarmed that their nominations were delayed. Clark, the founder of the Shalom Church (City of Peace), said he had “no reaction” to the council’s decision.

“I’m here to serve,” Clark said. “Period.”

And Spence said that he thought the committee hearing “could go either way.”

“I understand everybody’s point, I really do,” Spence said. “I respect their opinions. They’re doing their jobs. They’re trying to represent their districts. I mean, hey. If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. I would like to serve St. Louis County. I’d like to serve the citizens of St. Louis County. I want to make St. Louis County safer for our kids. Hopefully I’ll be honored with an appointment.”

“As they say, you can’t push a rope,” he added.

Some – including the St. Louis County Police Association – accused Dooley of trying to rejigger the St. Louis Police County Board of Police Commissioners to oust Chief Tim Fitch. Dooley has flatly denied that and reiterated that on Tuesday.

“I’ve indicated that I’ve supported the chief,” Dooley said. “I’ve said that on numerous occasions.”

Asked whether he thought that Dooley is trying to oust the chief, Stenger said, “That’s really not for me to decide one way or the other," adding that he had read Fitch’s blog post “where he certainly indicated that is something that he is concerned about.”

“Certainly if he believes he should be concerned about, then that’s something that I would take to heart and something I would need to be concerned about that as well,” Stenger said.

Spence dismissed such a theory as “whispers that I’ve never heard.”

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