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St. Louis County Council Approves Limiting Page’s Emergency Order Power

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page announces the formation of a small business relief fund on May 1, 2020.
File|David Kovaluk I St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, shown in May, said Monday he would veto legislation curbing his emergency order powers,

The St. Louis County Council, by a 4-3 vote, passed two bills Monday to dramatically curb County Executive Sam Page’s emergency order powers.

But in a tweet after the meeting, Page said he would reject the bills. To override his veto, the council would need a supermajority of five votes, which appears unlikely.

“They will not become law,” Page said. “My first priority is to protect the health and welfare of our residents and these bills undermine those efforts and jeopardize the safety of all of us.”

The council, in a meeting that originally began last Tuesday and had stretched on and off until Monday, voted to limit any emergency order by the county executive to 15 days, after which council approval would be required.

The council’s three Republicans were joined by Democrat Rita Heard Days. They all emphasized the legislation had nothing to do with mask or social distancing mandates. But their reasoning varied from there.

“It is about inclusion and collaboration,” Days said. “I support whatever makes sense to keep St. Louis County residents safe and healthy.”

Days said that her constituents have suffered some of the worst outcomes from the coronavirus pandemic, and that resources from the county were hard to come by.

“I have had to beg for testing in North County. It was not pleasant,” she said. “North County was one of the last areas to get testing, and many of the sites were not county sponsored sites.”

Councilmen Tim Fitch, Ernie Trakas and Mark Harder leaned less on specific arguments about their constituents and more on the idea about checks and balances in government.

“Remember the medical profession coined the term ‘get a second opinion.’ These bills give the council the ability to give many opinions,” Fitch said. “Giving the council oversight does not mean we’ll overrule the county executive or his politically appointed health director. What it does mean is they will have to explain their decisions and orders to the elected members of this body.”

More than 2,200 public comments were submitted to last Tuesday’s meeting regarding the bills. In total, the council allowed 15 hours' worth to be read on-and-off over five days, before a motion Monday afternoon to halt the reading in favor of continuing the meeting. That motion passed on the same 4-3 margin as the bills did.

Many of the comments voiced concerns about mask and social distancing mandates falling to the wayside if the bills passed. Others thought Page had too much power in alone setting restrictions.

Chairwoman Lisa Clancy said she understood the frustration surrounding the county's pandemic response. But said these bills won’t address that frustration.

“I fail to see how … putting our community at risk, which is what these bills will do if they go into law, addresses any of these concerns,” she said before the vote.

Instead, Clancy added, they will simply hinder public health officials. “In practical effect the bills mean mask mandates, occupancy limits, even reporting requirements for long term care facilities, as I’ve mentioned, would automatically expire until the council takes action to extend them,” she said.

Councilwomen Rochelle Walton Gray and Kelli Dunaway echoed her skepticism.

“I wish I did, but I just do not believe the intent of these bills is to further protect St. Louis County in a global pandemic,” Dunaway said.

Follow Becca on Twitter: @itsreallyflick

Becca is an intern with St. Louis Public Radio.