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St. Louis County Council Chair Says She And Sam Page Haven't Talked In Months

Former St. Louis County Councilwoman Hazel Erby congratulates Rita Days, a former state lawmaker who will fill Erby's 1st District seat on the council. Aug. 6, 2019
Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio
Former St. Louis County Councilwoman Hazel Erby, left, was recently dismissed from Page's administration. Councilwoman Rita Days, right, has become more critical of Page on a number of fronts.

Rita Heard Days was elected chair of the St. Louis County Council on Jan. 15. But it took seven weeks — and a judge's decision — to get some of her fellow Democrats to acknowledge that.

A rival faction backed by County Executive Sam Page went to court, seeking to block Days' election. They lost. And even now, one week after the ruling, Days said she hasn't heard from Page.

“We have not had a conversation in many months,” she explained on Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air. “I was hoping that he would reach out after the chair decision had been made. And let's just say that has not happened yet.”

At Tuesday’s council meeting, Days led the council in a vote of no confidence in County Counselor Beth Orwick, who took the dispute over council leadership to court.

“A person in that position is supposed to represent the seven of us, not just three and not just four,” she said. “You’re supposed to represent the council as a whole. And I don't think that that has been done.”

She said she’d like to see a separate division in the county counselor’s office provide legal advice when the county needs it, something she said is mandated under the charter. “I don't think that has happened,” Days said. “So we are left at the mercy of what her decisions are, even in terms of opinions that we've asked for, for different issues, and they have just not been what we needed at the time.”

Still, Days said she is eager to work with the entire county council. She said her top priority was dealing with systemic racism, alluding to multiple lawsuits filed against the police department.

“I have not seen the number of lawsuits ever before coming through the county [now], and all of them are based on discrimination, either racial discrimination, sexual discrimination, all these kinds of things that are happening right now,” she said. “I'm hoping that we can develop a trust within this council where we can address these things as a body of seven. And we need to look at all of it, because we can't afford the number of lawsuits that are coming down.”

Police Chief Mary Barton had to apologize for saying there was no systemic racism in her department and, more recently, saw her brother-in-law’s departure from his job as a dispatcher after he reportedly used a racial slur. Days said she does not have confidence in Barton.

Whether she stays on as chief, though, is up to the Board of Police Commissioners. Its chairman recently resigned. Days said, “I think that we have some very, very serious conversations we need to have about the board — what their responsibilities are, and how they are going to … address the systemic racism that is permeating through the St. Louis County Police Department.”

To achieve her goals, Days will have to work not only with the Democrats who opposed her election, but also with the unlikely coalition that elected her as chair: Republican council members Mark Harder and Tim Fitch, along with fellow north county Democrat Shalonda Webb.

Harder and Fitch have pushed for fewer COVID-19 restrictions in the county, in opposition to Page. Days said she is a “mask person” who believes in science but suggested she is open to hearing the argument that local restrictions should be loosened.

She noted that while St. Louis County has had much more serious restrictions than St. Charles County, its case counts don’t look all that different. “We've had these kinds of restrictions in place for almost a year now. And the numbers don't look any differently. So what is it that we did or did not do to affect the kinds of restrictions that we have?”

She said it comes down to needing more information and communication from the county executive. “Give us the information and let us make some decisions, let us share in the decision process,” Days said. “And that has not happened. And so that creates a level of distrust, if you will, for us looking at how we move forward with these restrictions.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Sarah Fenske served as host of St. Louis on the Air from July 2019 until June 2022. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.