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Citing ‘Chaos’ In County Government, Fitch Calls For Stenger To Quit

St. Louis County Councilman Tim Fitch speaks with reporters following a swearing in ceremony for elected county officials. Jan. 1, 2019
File Photo I Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis County Councilman Tim Fitch called on St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger to resign on April 1, 2019.

A Republican councilman is calling for St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger to resign, citing a sour relationship with the county council and uncertainty over a federal subpoena of the Democratic official’s administration.

But Stenger made clear Monday morning he has no plans to step aside, disputing Councilman Tim Fitch’s characterization that St. Louis County government is in “chaos.”

In a statement, Fitch, who served as St. Louis County’s police chief, said the “near paralysis” in county government is “worse than I ever experienced in my prior 31 years of service to the people of St. Louis County.”

Pointing to budget issues, stagnant employee pay and problems in St. Louis County’s Justice Center, Fitch said “something must give, and it must be now.” He went on to say that “very little positive is occurring in your county government because of this chaos.”

“I truly believe the only way to move this county forward is for the county executive to step down,” said Fitch, R-St. Louis County. “It might not be in the county executive’s best interest to resign, but it is the right thing to do for the people of the county. Only then can we move forward to do the important work we were elected to do.”

Fitch’s statement comes roughly a week after news broke about a federal subpoena into Stenger’s administration. Councilman Sam Page, D-Creve Coeur, said the subpoena sought documents from Stenger and his staff, specifically on county contracts.

In an interview, Fitch said the subpoena adds “a layer of seriousness” to the situation. He added, though, that he’s observed dysfunction during his first three months of the council and “it was not getting better.”

“It was just a matter of time before me or others called for his resignation,” Fitch said.

St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger takes the oath of office on Jan. 1, 2019.
Credit File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger takes the oath of office on Jan. 1, 2019.

Stenger said in a statement that he is not resigning, adding that “the voters elected me to do a job, and I will continue to work on their behalf.” He said last week that he would fully comply with the federal subpoena.

“The assertion that the county government is in ‘chaos’ is untrue,” Stenger said. “County government continues to function efficiently, and our administration and employees are working to improve the lives of our residents. We are advancing public safety, spurring economic development and promoting an equity agenda designed to drive institutional changes that will enhance the quality of life for our residents.

“We intend to see these initiatives through to successful conclusions and ask the county council to work with us,” he added.

Fitch said he wasn’t surprised by Stenger’s statement, adding, “I really didn’t think he’d put out, ‘OK, I get it. I’m resigning effective immediately.’”

“However, I think the people of the county need to know what’s going on, and they need to understand what their options are,” Fitch said. “Right now at this point, I think the only real option is for the county executive to step down in order to move everybody forward.”

Other councilmembers respond

St. Louis County Council Chairman Sam Page declines to answer questions following a special meeting Thursday night.
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis County Council Chairman Sam Page says he agrees with much of Fitch had to say in his statement.

St. Louis Public Radio contacted the other six members of the council to ask if they agree with Fitch's statement.

Page said in a text message: "I agree with much of what Chief Fitch has to say."

"It would seem to be almost impossible to lead a government when you're the subject of a federal investigation," Page said. "I doubt Mr. Stenger can do both."

Councilwoman Lisa Clancy, D-Maplewood, said in a text message "whether Steve Stenger continues in office is a serious conversation we need to have."

"This isn't about what's best for Mr. Stenger or the council — it's about what's best for the people of St. Louis County," Clancy said.

Councilman Ernie Trakas, though, said he disagreed with Fitch's characterization of county government, adding that "while others have stood on the sidelines, the council has been addressing the question of possible corruption in the Stenger administration for a long time." 

Trakas, R-South St. Louis County, also said that he didn't agree with Fitch's resignation call.

"The aforementioned facts notwithstanding, we are a nation of laws and part of those laws is the idea of due process," Trakas said. "Mr. Stenger, like every other citizen, is entitled to due process. Calling for his resignation is premature. As I previously stated, county government will continue to operate."

Even before the subpoena, Stenger and the council had a decidedly antagonistic relationship. He no longer has any reliable allies on the council — a marked change from the beginning of his term when a majority of council members sided with Stenger on contentious issues.

If Stenger were to resign, the council would choose his replacement until the next election in 2020. Based off the St. Louis County Charter, the council would have to choose a Democrat as Stenger’s replacement. But the charter does not require that the successor be a member of the county council.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

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