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With Grand Jury Decision Looming, Stenger And Dooley Aren't Talking

Jo Mannies | St. Louis Public Radio | file photo

As the St. Louis region awaits a grand jury decision on whether to charge Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson with a crime, federal, state and local officials have been in constant communications with each other to prepare for what happens next. 

But there’s been no talk between two policymakers in particular: St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley and St. Louis County Executive-elect Steve Stenger.

Both men told reporters that they haven’t talked to each other in the run up to grand jury decision, even though Stenger will be sworn in on Jan. 1 and will have to deal with the aftermath of the decision.

“There’s been no communication, period,” Dooley told reporters on Thursday. (Dooley didn't elaborate why the two haven't been talking.)

Stenger said he’s tried multiple times to talk to Dooley since Aug. 9, but not since the Nov. 4 election. When asked whether Dooley had given him any information about preparations for the grand jury decision, Stenger replied: “I have been advised of nothing.”

"I have not called him after the election," Stenger said. "I have called him enough that I have made the determination that he doesn't want to talk to me, for whatever reason, or does not want to return my telephone call. I am more than happy to talk with him. I want to talk with him. I want to have communication."

Stenger said he’s talked with St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar “routinely.” But he emphasized that he wanted to be in direct communication with Dooley or somebody from within his administration.

“I just call upon the county executive to do the right thing for St. Louis County and bring me in the loop,” Stenger said. “I’m not asking to usurp his authority. I’m not asking to have authority that I don’t have. I am the county executive-elect. I’m not the county executive. But I am making myself available not only to receive information, but also serve as any support role that I can.”

There’s no love lost between Dooley and Stenger. Stenger emerged victorious in a bitter Democratic primary, which came after several years of feuding between the pair. The two prominently clashed in 2011 during a budget battle over the county’s parks system.

But Stenger said, “It is best for St. Louis Countians that I be brought up to speed, that I be fully apprised of the circumstances and the situation that we are in.”

“I can certainly keep reaching out to the police chief as I have been doing,” Stenger said. “But it would be much more instructive and meaningful if I received communication directly from the administration. And I would suggest that what the administration does is identify one particular person that can have communication with me and that we open a channel of communication. And I’m asking for that right now.”

South County Connection 'on hold'

Stenger also sounded off on a St. Louis Post-Dispatch report that the so-called South County Connector was likely on hold. The proposed roadway was aimed at easing congestion, but spurred a fierce backlash from some communities – such as Maplewood.

He said that the unwieldy federal funding situation would likely make it difficult for the project to get off the ground.

“It’s a very expensive project — federal dollars are necessary,” Stenger said. “Right now, we’ve got a federal highway bill that is in flux and provides us no certainty that we would receive funding. So for now, until we get a highway bill — I think that one’s just going to have to be put on hold.”

While Stenger said it’s fine to support the principle of shorter commute times, he added “you can’t just look at that side of it.”

“There’s other factors that need to be weighed in and balanced — and things need to be given weight,” Stenger said. “One of the chief things that need to be given weight is what do our resident think about it? It seems to be what I regard as a fairly unpopular project. And it’s unpopular both at a resident level and it’s unpopular at the municipal level as well. And that, along with the lack of funding issues that we have, I think the project needs to just be on hold for now.”

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