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Council gives final approval to police board background checks

This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Despite a lukewarm response, St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley told reporters he wouldn’t veto a proposal requiring financial and criminal background checks for nominees to the St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners.

Dooley said he’s currently reviewing potential appointees to the embattled commission after one of his nominees for the board stepped aside.

Earlier this summer, Dooley nominated Democrat Freddy J. Clark and Republican Dave Spence to serve on the five-person police board. The board has been under intense scrutiny after a general contractor awarded SM Mechanical LLC a $3.7 million subcontract for heating and air conditioning construction for St. Louis County’s new crime lab. Greg Sansone – a former member of the police board who has since resigned -- is an owner of SM Mechanical LLC.

Spence's and Clark's nominations were stalled as the council considered Councilman Mike O’Mara’s bill to require background checks on an appointee’s criminal and financial history. That bill received final passage on Tuesday by a 5-2 vote.

Dooley had criticized O’Mara’s bill last week, telling reporters that it “missed the mark.” But Dooley said on Tuesday he wouldn’t veto the proposal, adding, “whatever the council wants to do, they voted and we’re going to move forward.”

(Dooley’s objection would likely be symbolic, since the measure received enough votes to override a veto.)

Council Chairwoman Kathleen Burkett, D-Overland, once again criticized O’Mara’s bill on Tuesday for subjecting nominees to credit checks, adding that she didn’t feel comfortable with the council having access to that information. Asked if he shared those concerns, Dooley said, “I think that we missed the mark as I indicated last time.”

“They’re still looking at the qualifications. They’re not looking at the conflict of interest,” said Dooley, referring to a failed proposal that would have added subcontractors to the county’s conflict of interest policy. “I think that would have resolved the issues. At this point, we have a difference of opinion.”

Councilman Greg Quinn, R-Ballwin, said, “It’s very reasonable to subject prospective members of the police board to the same background checks that police officers have to go through.

“These are the people that are going to be overseeing the police force and making decisions about the police force,” Quinn said. “So it seems reasonable to me to have those same types of background checks.”

Besides Quinn and O’Mara, Councilman Steve Stenger, D-Affton, Councilwoman Colleen Wasinger, R-Town and Country, and Councilman Pat Dolan, D-Richmond Heights, voted for the bill. Burkett and Councilwoman Hazel Erby, D-University City, voted against it.

Dooley mulling over new nominees

Meanwhile, Dooley said he’s mulling over nominees to fill two other vacancies on the board. Clark withdrew from consideration late last week, while Ray Wagner is expected to depart from the board later this month.

Dooley told reporters on Tuesday that Clark stepped aside for “personal reasons,” adding that the potential background check played no role.

He went onto say that “we’re going to move forward with additional nominations,” adding “they’re under review at this time.”

“Within in the next couple of weeks or so, we’ll have some new nominations,” Dooley said.

Burkett and Dooley had raised concerns that the board may lack a quorum after Wagner resigns. Asked about that prospect, Dooley said Wagner “indicated he might stay a little longer if necessary.”

“He might, he might not. I don’t know. But we’ll see,” Dooley said. “I think we have dedicated people that want to do the right thing for the right reasons. Again, he’s indicated he’s going to step down at some point in time, but that’s yet to be determined. I would hope that he would wait until we get a full board.”

Dooley said he’d vet his nominees with his staff, which he said is the “normal” process. Asked if the council should have input on the nominees to the police board before Dooley officially puts them forward, Quinn said, “That might eliminate some of the difficulties and maybe get the process moving more quickly in the future.

“But I guess what I’d like to see is that things go according to the dictates of the charter,” Quinn said “And that really doesn’t call for us to have input in beforehand.

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

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