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St. Louis County Councilwoman Hazel Erby Set To Resign To Lead Diversity Initiatives

St. Louis County Council member Hazel Erby speaks to reporters after an emergency council meeting Monday night.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis County Councilwoman Hazel Erby will resign to join St. Louis County Executive Sam Page's administration.

Updated at 3:30 p.m., May 9 with comment from St. Louis County Councilman Mark Harder and a list of Councilwoman Hazel Erby's potential successors — St. Louis County Councilwoman Hazel Erby is resigning from her seat to join County Executive Sam Page’s administration.

The University City Democrat will be in charge of a department overseeing the county’s diversity and inclusion initiatives, giving her more authority over a public policy area she’s been engaged in for years.

Erby told St. Louis Public Radio that Page approached her about joining his administration last week.

“He’s passionate about, and knows that I’m passionate about, diversity and inclusion and equity; that’s what I fought for the entire time I’ve been on the council,” Erby said. “He thinks that I can make a difference in St. Louis County government, as well as St. Louis County as a whole. And I’m looking forward to do that.”

As a councilwoman, Erby was instrumental in passing legislation setting minority contracting requirements, among other equity and diversity issues. Page spokesman Doug Moore said the new role as director of diversity, equity and inclusion would give Erby the ability to make sure her legislative efforts are implemented. Her salary will be $121,000.

She's expected to work closely with the county's first chief diversity officer, Jack L. Thomas, who was hired in July.

“Councilwoman Erby has led county government in pursuing equal opportunity for all of our residents,” Page said in a statement. “She and I have worked as a team for years, and I’m elated our partnership will continue.”

Erby is the longest-serving member of the St. Louis County Council, having taken over the 1st District seat after Charlie Dooley became county executive in 2003. After losing some of her influence once Steve Stenger took office in 2015, Erby was an integral part of a potent opposition coalition. The council ended up passing her legislation aimed at broadening minority participation in county projects last year, the culmination of a longstanding policy push that began during the Dooley administration.

“Diversity, equity and inclusion are values at the core of who Hazel is,” said St. Louis NAACP President Adolphus Pruitt. “She is the perfect person to lead the county’s efforts to advance these issues in a more focused way.”

Some African American political officials wanted Erby to succeed Stenger after he resigned and were upset that the council chose Page so quickly.

Erby, though, noted that she’s forged a strong working relationship with Page over the past couple of years. She said she was confident Page would give her the support to do her new executive branch job effectively.

“I saw his sincerity. And I know him after working so closely with him the past two years as chair and vice chair,” she said. “We’re trying to make a difference in St. Louis County and change the culture that exists in St. Louis County in terms of diversity and inclusion. I just feel confident that Sam is supportive of that and will do everything he can to support me in my effort.”

Council shift

Erby’s resignation will have an impact, at least temporarily, on the partisan composition of the St. Louis County Council.

Because seats that Erby and Page represented will be vacant, Republicans will hold a 3-2 majority on the council. This will be the first time Republicans will control the council since the end of 2006 — an unlikely turn of events since Democrats have become the dominant force in county politics over the past few election cycles. The seats will likely be filled in the August election.

How much the partisan shift affects council business remains to be seen. The three Republican members, Councilmen Mark Harder, Ernie Trakas and Tim Fitch, have praised some of Page’s initiatives in his early days as county executive. Harder actually handed Page a broom during this week’s council meeting, signifying the Ballwin Republican’s confidence that the new county executive could “clean up” county government.

"There's not a lot of partisan issues that come up," Harder said. "Most of our votes are 6 to 0. So there will be a little bit of partisan manuevering because of this situation. But I don't see this as a big issue at this point."

Harder, who is now the most senior member of the council, also noted that four votes are needed to pass a bill out of the council. That, he said, means there will have to buy-in from Democratic Councilwomen Lisa Clancy and Rochelle Walton Gray to approve major initiatives.

"Whether it's Democrats or the Republicans, they need four votes to pass anything — from a grant to a parking meeting or whatever," Harder said. "It's a forced cooperation when you've got such a small number of people on the council."

Erby's district is overhwelmingly Democratic. The county's Democratic central committee will choose the nominee for the August special election. Former state Rep. Clem Smith of Velda Village Hills told St. Louis Public Radio he's interested in pursuing the nomination. Other potential candidates include state Rep. Cora Faith Walker, D-Ferguson, former Sen. Rita Days, D-Bel Nor, former state Rep. Courtney Curtis, D-Ferguson, Jennings Councilman Terry Wilson and former state Rep. Sharon Pace, D-Northwoods.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.

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