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Dooley Aide Unloads On Stenger At Rancorous Council Meeting

Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio

A top aide to St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley unleashed scathing criticism Tuesday at his boss’ Democratic rival for county executive. 

It was part of yet another highly charged county council meeting filled with arguments, insults, recriminations and heated confrontations.

Councilman Steve Stenger — an Affton Democrat running against Dooley in the Aug. 5 primary — criticized Mike Jones on Monday for his role in ending most student transfers from the Normandy School District. Jones is a member of the state Board of Education and a senior policy advisor to Dooley.

Stenger called on the state board to reverse its decision “preventing Normandy students from returning to schools they attended last year under Missouri’s transfer law." Stenger was referringto the state board's creation of a new Normandy Schools Collaborative with no accreditation status. He then chastised Jones for stating at the state board meeting “there are going to be causalities with what we are going to do today.”

During the council’s public forum on Tuesday, Jones pulled no punches. He called Stenger a “political zero” who “was using black children to benefit their personal political agenda.”

“In your worthless political life, you have never spoken to any issue that affects black children, black adults in any shape, form or fashion,” Jones said.

He then derisively referenced Stenger’s call for a committee meeting to see if the county’s Children Services Fund could be used to help the school district: “Next week, you’re going to have your committee of the whole meeting. It’s going to be me and you. You get your committee of the whole meeting and I get a chance to kill a hyena.”

After the council meeting, Stenger called Jones’ remarks “unprofessional.”

Stenger responded to Jones' comments after Tuesday's meeting ended..

“My career is a career that shows I stood up for all of St. Louis County’s residents, including our minority residents,” Stenger said. “I think that his comments were certainly not well taken by me.” 

Dooley was harshly critical on Monday of Stenger’s call for a committee hearing and for the board to reverse its decision on Normandy’s accreditation. But he said on Tuesday that he would have challenged Stenger “in a different way.”

Dooley spoke with reporters after the council meeting about Jones' comments.

“I understand what he is saying. From the fact Steve crossed the line talking about things he knows nothing about. Don’t have a clue,” Dooley said. “If he wants to know something about, he should have asked Mike Jones. Mike is here every day. Call him up. And suggest whatever you want to suggest. But I would not have said what Mike had said.”

Dooley blasts O'Mara's minority participation bills

Jones’ comments were just the opening salvo in a council meeting rife with contention.

A week after legislation on the subject failed, the St. Louis County Council gave preliminary approval to alternative bills to increase minority and female participation for county contracts.

Councilman Mike O’Mara’s bills were similar to what Councilwoman Hazel Erby, D-University City, proposed. The key difference, though, was how much a county contract should be before a contractor must undergo federally-approved apprenticeship training. 

Councilman Mike O'Mara's minority participation bills sparked a nearly 13-minute back-and-forth between Councilwoman Hazel Erby and other members of the council.

Both Dooley and Erby have argued that apprenticeship training -- which is done primarily  by unions -- is too expensive for some minority and female businesses. They say having a low apprenticeship training threshold puts minority and female businesses at a disadvantage when bidding for work. The bills passed on Tuesday — which could supersede an executive order signed by Dooley — set the apprentice training threshold lower than Erby’s bills, which the council rejected last week.

“I cannot believe this council in 2014 will dismiss diversity the way they did. I think it’s unacceptable,” Dooley said. “And this county has a lot better value system than that. And that does not represent St. Louis County.”

But Stenger noted that Dooley had no problem supporting a bill in 2012 that required a federally approved apprenticeship program for contracts over $25,000. He also said that Dooley signed that bill eventhough some — such as MOKAN’s Yaphett El-Amin — raised concerns that the measure could block minorities out of contract opportunities. (In response, Dooley said he supported that bill with the understanding that the council would reconsider it at a later date.)

“It’s very much an anchoring fact in this whole analysis is that just two years ago they were fine with it,” Stenger said. “And they did not bring it up again until 60 days before an election and now are seeking to complain about it. And I just ask ‘where have they been for the last two years and where have they been for the last 10 years with this legislation?’ The city has had similar legislation for a very long time. About a decade. And the county executive hasn’t moved on this until 60 days before his election.”

No end in sight?

When the council adjourned, the fighting continued, this time between Dooley and Councilman Greg Quinn, R-Ballwin. Quinn told reporters that Dooley was “essentially calling me names” and saying “I was full of something that I can’t repeat on the air.” 

Credit Jason Rosenbaum/St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley and the council have been at odds in recent weeks.

Dooley said he was upset that Quinn had initially voted to approve the minority participation bill — and found it peculiar that he was aligning with Stenger on the issue. 

“Mr. Quinn, God bless his heart, he has never voted with a Democrat in his entire life. All of a sudden now, he’s Steve Stenger’s best friend. To me, that is suspect,” Dooley said. “Secondly, he knows he’s not going to be on the county council come Jan. 1. So apparently, Quinn’s going to be Steve Stenger’s mouthpiece.” 

Quinn expressed dismay that county council meetings were devolving into bitter sparring matches between Dooley and Erby, and allies of Stenger.

“I’ve never seen anything seen anything in my 24 years on the council like this, said Quinn, who has gotten into sparring matches with Dooley in recent months. “We haven’t had this amount of volume and just nastiness for some time. But I think maybe what’s happening is there is an election.”

When asked if the continued council rancor cast the county in a bad light, Dooley said, “because we disagree, doesn’t mean that somebody should think it’s not a great place to live.”

“It looks ugly — it is ugly — when people disagree on principles,” Dooley said. “That is life. That is American politics. That’s democracy at its best. When people disagree, but at the end of the day, figure out a way to make it work. And that’s what we’re going to do after Aug. 5.”

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