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Spence withdraws nomination to St. Louis County police board

Dave Spence, the GOP's nominee for governor, announced Tuesday he was withdrawing his nomination to be on the St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners. He's seen here with Charlie Dooley.
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Beacon | 2013

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 22, 2013: Republican Dave Spence withdrew his nomination to be on the St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners, a move he attributed to an ordinance that calls for stricter background and credit checks.

It’s the latest twist in St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley’s so far fruitless effort to bring the embattled police board to full strength.

Earlier this year, Dooley nominated Spence and Democrat Freddie Clark to the police board. The nominations came amid intense scrutiny of the board after a general contractor hired by the board had 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.

Clark eventually withdrew his nomination, but Spence's lingered without council action for weeks. Dooley told reporters that one reason that Spence’s nomination had stalled was a new ordinance requiring background checks on an appointee’s criminal and financial history. 

In his letter to Dooley, Spence -- the 2012 Republican nominee for governor -- said his "reason for withdrawing was simple: the new legislation" by Councilmen Steve Stenger, D-Affton, and Mike O'Mara, D-Florissant, "is in my view flawed in that it creates possible exposure that is unnecessary and unacceptable to me.

"I do not now have nor have I ever had any problem submitting to background checks or credit checks," Spence wrote. "However I do have a problem with the council not being able to safeguard my business and personal information. That information that is now required under the new ordinance is excessive -- council members themselves are not subject to the kind of exposure being asked of private individuals who simply want to serve their community."

He said that despite assurances "that these documents will be kept private, the council cannot guarantee that the information is not subject to state sunshine laws."

"I certainly understand the desire to thoroughly review candidates to any council board or commission,” Spence said. “However, I believe in this instance the new ordinance has consequences that are politically and civically shortsighted.”

After Tuesday’s meeting of the St. Louis County Council, Dooley said it was “unfortunate” that Spence had to drop his nomination, but “we’ve got to move forward.”

“We have some difficulties with the confidentiality – we couldn’t guarantee his confidentially like … we guarantee all our employees,” Dooley said. “But we can’t do it for the appointee. And that’s a problem.”

Dooley noted that five members of the council voted for the ordinance that was sponsored by O’Mara, which was enough to override the county executive’s potential veto.

Spence’s departure means that Dooley will have to appoint three members to the board. Without the council approving at least one of his appointees, the board doesn’t have a quorum.

He added though that the lack of a quorum won't impact how the St. Louis County Police Department operates.

“If somebody comes up with a request before the police board or an appeal or grievance or something of that nature, that might play into it," Dooley said. "But right now as far as payments or how do our business in St. Louis County and protecting its citizens, that will not be a problem.”

O’Mara and Stenger take issue

Both O’Mara and Stenger dissented from Spence and Dooley’s assessment of the ordinance, which passed the council earlier this fall.

“I think it does protect the private information,” O’Mara said. “It’s a closed record. And if [we] come down to our county administrator, all we can do is request to look at it and that information stays there. We can’t make any copies. So it stays confidential within our administrator.”

Stenger – who announced last week that he was running against Dooley in next year’s Democratic primary – agreed with O'Mara that a nominee's background check information is "a closed record" and not “Sunshineable.”

O’Mara said he received news of Spence’s withdrawal minutes before the council meeting started. He said he didn’t know whether Spence would have had the votes to win approval, adding “we were never polled.”

Asked about why he thought the nominee withdrew, Stenger said, “I don’t know what Dave Spence thinks.”

Spence's nomination drew opposition from organized labor groups. Some of those organizations were upset that Dooley appointed somebody who had expressed support for "right to work" legislation when he ran for governor. (Dooley countered that Spence's view on the issue wasn't relevant to how the police board operates.)

Bob Soutier, president of the Greater St. Louis Labor Council, cited the Spence appointment as one of the reasons his group pulled support from Dooley's re-election efforts.

Both O’Mara and Stenger said they had no plans to introduce any alterations to the ordinance. O’Mara added the “reason for that ordinance is if you’re going to serve on the police board, you should have the same credentials as a police officer in St. Louis County.”

When asked if there would be continued trouble to fill the vacant slots on the board, O’Mara said he had 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 retired lieutenant in the St. Louis Police Department.

“He’s lived in the county for many years and brings great credentials and management skills to the police board. And that’s why I supplied that name, because I think he’d be a good recommendation to this board. There are credible candidates out there. And I think we can move forward from here and hopefully select a good candidate.”

Dooley though said he expects potential nominees to the board could be scared away from coming forward because of the background check ordinance.

“It’s not going to be easy,” Dooley said. “We’ll have to wait and see. Hopefully we can get past this.”

Note: An earlier version of this story misstated the department affiliation of Mr. Malecek.

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

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