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Parson says crime in St. Louis is hurting Missouri’s image

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson speaks during a stop on March 2, 2023, in downtown St. Louis to ceremonially sign legislation raising pay for state employees.
Jason Rosenbaum
St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson speaks during a stop Thursday in downtown St. Louis to ceremonially sign legislation raising pay for state employees.

Updated at 8 p.m. on Thursday with a statement from Gardner's office over Fitzpatrick's audit.

Gov. Mike Parson said legislation that would appoint a special prosecutor to handle violent crime in St. Louis and reinstate state control of the city’s police department is worth considering.

During a visit to St. Louis on Thursday, the governor said action is needed partly because crime in the city is harming Missouri’s image and making it more difficult to recruit major businesses to the state.

“When I go overseas, or I go to other states trying to recruit businesses or trying to get people to come up here — I've got to deal with that situation all the time,” Parson said after a ceremonial bill signing in downtown St. Louis that increases state workers’ pay.

In the current legislative session, two proposals are pending that would dramatically affect St. Louis crime fighting: The first would allow a governor to appoint a special prosecutor to handle certain cases. And the other would reimpose a board appointed by the governor to oversee the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department.

GOP lawmakers have made no secret that the special prosecutor bill is aimed at Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, contending the Democratic official’s mismanagement of her office is exacerbating the city’s crime woes. And the effort to reverse a 2012 ballot item that placed the mayor’s office in charge of the city police department is gaining momentum this year and has support from police unions.

Parson said both bills are worth considering.

“The bottom line is violent crimes are going up in St. Louis, there's no way to sugarcoat that,” Parson said. “I mean, it is a problem up here. And it’s affecting the city. It's affecting our state.”

Both of those bills have advanced through the Missouri House but could face turbulence in the Senate. Some Democrats in the legislature as well as St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones strongly oppose efforts to repeal local control of the police department.

Parson emphasized that he wasn’t ready to say whether he’d sign or veto a specific piece of legislation without knowing what’s in the bill.

“We’ve got to see what it looks like,” Parson said. “But I think it’s a legitimate discussion to have.”

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023, during a press conference regarding calls for her resignation at the Mel Carnahan Courthouse in downtown St. Louis.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023, during a press conference regarding calls for her resignation at the Mel Carnahan Courthouse in downtown St. Louis.

Parson chastises judicial branch in case that imperils Gardner

Parson was asked about Attorney General Andrew Bailey’s bid to get a judge to oust Gardner from her post.

Bailey initiated quo warranto proceedings against Gardner last week, contending, among other things, that she neglected basic duties of her office. She’s faced bipartisan calls to resign after Daniel Riley, who repeatedly violated house arrest, seriously injured 17-year-old Janae Edmondson in a car crash.

If Bailey is successful at removing Gardner, Parson would appoint her replacement. While Parson demurred about whether Gardner should step down because of his possible role in selecting her successor, he did add that the quo warranto process was the correct venue to decide her future.

“I think the AG is doing the right thing," Parson said. "I think you're doing what the system allows you to do. You're putting it in front of a judge. And you're gonna let a judge go through there and see the facts of the case. And we're going to see where that comes out.”

Gardner has refused to step down. And both Gardner and her supporters have been fiercely critical of judges who didn’t revoke Riley’s bond. But while Gardner said her office made an oral motion to revoke bond, there hasn’t been a transcript released showing that her office made that request.

While Parson has been critical of Gardner, he made it clear on Thursday he wasn’t happy with the way judges acted in the Riley case. He said while he understands that people who are accused of misdemeanors can be out of jail before trial, it didn’t make sense for Riley to get house arrest when he was accused of armed robbery.

“I'm not gonna let anybody just have a free pass on this,” Parson said. “The system failed in that particular case.”

St. Louis judges are under what’s known as the Missouri Nonpartisan Court Plan. Under that system, Parson, a Republican, chooses between three nominees to fill vacancies — and voters decide later whether that judge should be retained.

“When we start talking about whether it's Kim Gardner or the judges, everyday citizens out here are the victims,” said Parson in response to a question about whether the Nonpartisan Court Plan made it harder to hold judges accountable. “We all took an oath as elected officials to say we were going to protect them and uphold the law. We’re all subject to that.”

Scott Fitzpatrick is sworn in as the next state auditor by Jack Goodman, Chief Judge of Missouri Court of Appeals for the Southern District, on Monday, Jan. 9, 2023, at the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City.
Sarah Kellogg
St. Louis Public Radio
State Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick is seeking records from Gardner's office.

Fitzpatrick seeks Gardner records

Meanwhile, State Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick announced on Thursday he was subpoenaing Gardner's office for records he said she's failed to produce. He said it's part of an ongoing audit of the City of St. Louis.

The GOP statewide official is seeking out bank statements, credit card statements, policy guidelines, and other expenditure information. He added that his office "tried to work with the Circuit Attorney's Office but my patience has run out."

St. Louis' city departments have been under a state audit after the Board of Aldermen made that request in 2018.

"The people of St. Louis, through their Board of Aldermen, have requested this audit," Fitzpatrick said. "So when Ms. Gardner continues to evade her responsibility to produce critical documents as requested, she isn't just refusing to cooperate with the State Auditor's office, she's also refusing to cooperate with her own constituents."

In a statement, Gardner's office said it has "cooperated with all requests from the auditor."

"Today’s subpoena was a surprise, however, our office is committed to comply with all requests related to its audit of the office," the statement said.

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