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St. Louis County Police Board Chairman Quits As Scrutiny Of Department Grows

Police Chief Jon Belmar (left) and Ron Corvington (right) in 2014
File Photo | Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio
Roland Corvington (right) resigned Monday as head of the St. Louis County board that oversees the police department. Several members of the County Council are hoping police Chief John Belmar (left) will resign.

The head of the St. Louis County board that oversees the police department quit suddenly Monday, a day after County Executive Sam Page said publicly he was seeking to replace members of the panel

The board’s chairman, former FBI agent Roland Corvington, resigned without explanation in a text message to Page on Monday.

A second commissioner, Laurie Westfall, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Page said she would be replaced.

Page has been considering changes to the police board for weeks, Page spokesman Doug Moore said, but started to act more quickly this past weekend after a jury handed down a nearly $20 million verdict against the police department in a discrimination lawsuit Friday. 

The board has the power to fire police Chief Jon Belmar, though Moore said Monday that Page is not calling for Belmar to be removed. Instead, he wants the chief to lead changes in the department.

The county executive is expected to make appointments to the five-member board later this week. The entire board will be serving on expired terms by Friday, presenting Page with an unusual opportunity to entirely overhaul one of the most powerful commissions in his government.

None of the police board members could be reached Monday evening, and Page’s office wouldn’t confirm that Westfall was being ousted. The county council would have to confirm any new appointments Page makes to the police board. 

The changes were pushed forward after a jury decided that Sgt. Keith Wildhaber was passed over for promotions because he is gay. 

The verdict comes on top of other complaints about the police and specifically the police board, including that the board wasn’t sensitive to a rape victim who came to speak at one of its recent public meetings. 

In a letter to county employees Monday, Page said that he had spent the day meeting with LGBTQ leaders and that he was working on building an “implicit-bias training program” — which is supposed to combat discrimination — with the Anti-Defamation League.

August 5, 2019 Dr. Sam Page
Credit File Photo | David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said he wants to appoint new people to the board that oversees the police department.

“We must implement policies and practices that guarantee every employee is treated with dignity. And we must hold our employees to high standards of honesty, integrity and professionalism,” he said. 

Councilwoman Lisa Clancy, D-Maplewood, said Sunday that Belmar should resign.

The council’s presiding officer, Ernie Trakas, R-south St. Louis County, said he wants Belmar to stay put.

“It’s unfair to judge an entire career by a single verdict,” Trakas said Monday night. “It’s unfair to place responsibility for that verdict on one person.”

In his letter to county employees Monday, Page, a Democrat, indicated he wanted Belmar to remain part of the police leadership, at least for the immediate future.

“Other changes will come by taking a fresh look at how the Police Department makes decisions. Over the coming weeks, Chief Belmar will lead the department through these changes,” Page wrote.

Page doesn’t actually have the power to push Belmar out of his job directly. Only the police board can make that decision. 

The police board called a meeting for Tuesday afternoon, fueling speculation that it might vote to oust Belmar. Moore said the meeting hasn’t been called to fire the police chief. Instead, the police board is expected to vote on hiring an outside contractor to review its policies and procedures, he said. 

Trakas plans to hold public hearings on Page’s nominees to the police board before the county council takes any votes to approve them. During these meetings, council members will be able to question his appointees. 

An earlier version of this story said that Councilwoman Lisa Clancy called for Belmar to be fired. She said that Belmar should resign.

Follow Julie O’Donoghue on Twitter: @jsodonoghue

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