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Stenger Demands Earls' Resignation Over Health Department Scheme

Jason Rosenbaum/St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis County Councilman Steve Stenger wants the county’s second-in-command to resign. 

Stenger, D-Affton, said on Tuesday that Chief Operating Officer Garry Earls should be held accountable for, among other things, fraud in the county’s health department.

County Health Department director Dolores Gunn announced in September that a former employee – Edward Mueth – set up a fake business that sold computer equipment to the agency. Mueth committed suicide before he could be questioned by county or law enforcement officials.

Before Tuesday’s St. Louis County Council meeting, Stenger told reporters that St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley had chosen to hold “no one accountable” for what he described as "reckless conduct." Stenger is challenging Dooley in this year’s Democratic primary.

“Garry Earls is the person who is at the very top of the chain of accountability – right under the county executive,” Stenger said. “And Garry Earls has chosen to hold nobody accountable for the conduct that occurred in the Mr. Mueth case in the health department.” 

Stenger also said there has been “absolutely, positively no accountability placed upon” Gunn for Mueth’s conduct.

Credit Jason Rosenbaum/St. Louis Public Radio
Councilman Steve Stenger, D-Affton, is challenging County Executive Charlie Dooley in this year's Democratic primary for county executive.

But Earls told reporters he had no plans to resign from his post. He said Stenger’s call amounted to a stunt to attract attention for his county executive bid.

“I am not going to resign because Mr. Stenger asked me to resign,” Earls said. “If Mr. Dooley were to tell me that he is completed with my services, I work for Mr. Dooley.”

Dooley said Stenger's resignation call was “nonsense” and a “cheap political trick.”

“Garry Earls is an outstanding individual,” Dooley said. “He does not report to the county council. He reports to Charlie Dooley, the county executive. He works in cooperation with the county council. That is not Steve Stenger or any council member’s opportunity. That’s my opportunity.”

“If you have no substance, you throw something against the wall and hope it sticks,” he added. “And it’s not sticking, so it’s sliding down.”

When asked who should be held responsible for Mueth’s actions, Dooley said “not only do we have an ongoing police investigation – we have an ongoing FBI investigation as well.” He also said he had full confidence in Gunn, who he called “an able employee” with a record that is “second to none.” Gunn told reporters she is not stepping down from her post.

“I do not want to get into the middle of that,” Dooley said. “I need some conclusion about what they think took place. I’m not an investigator. I did what I thought was right at the time. I want to know what the police department thinks and what the FBI thinks. And from that point, then we can decide what the next steps we are going to do.”

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported this week that health department officials suspected Mueth was engaged in the fake business scheme before his suicide. But, the paper reported, officials didn't inform law enforcement until after Mueth's death. 

Gunn said on Tuesday that there was "no orchestrated delay on the part of the county executive's office or myself in providing information to the police department immediately."  She said she wasn't informed about the situation until shortly before Mueth died. 

There’s little love lost between Stenger and Dooley. The two clashed in 2011 when Dooley proposed shutting down county parks. And Stenger has been critical of Dooley and Earls over a controversial subcontract awarded to a now-former member of the St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners. 

“I think the voters of St. Louis County will have an opportunity to vote on whether Mr. Dooley stays as county executive in August,” Stenger said. “But for tonight, I think it’s something that can be done and it’s something that should be done by the county executive.”

Here's a video of Dooley reacting to Stenger's call for Earls to resign:

Complete Streets lives

Meanwhile, the council resurrected astalled bill to make the county's roads friendlier to bike-riders and pedestrians.

Councilman Pat Dolan’s “Complete Streets” legislation compelled the county’s transportation department to add sidewalks, bike lanes or crosswalks for county road projects when possible. But a spokesman for the transportation department expressed concern about the proposal's cost.

Dolan, D-Richmond Heights, introduced a substitute bill giving the transportation department more leeway to incorporate “Complete Streets” elements. For instance, it took out a provision stating that the transportation department would have to ensure that exclusions to the policy are “documented with data indicating the basis for the exception.”

And the new bill also states, among other things, that the county would “routinely” incorporate Complete Street elements into projects “where practicable, economically feasible and maintainable.”

The council adopted the new version of Dolan’s bill without opposition. It's expected to receive a final vote at next week's council meeting.

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