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The St Louis Contrarian

Providing Independent and Intelligent Insight on St. Louis Public Policy Issues

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Message to Stenger

An excellent column by Tony Messenger in the Post offering some suggestions for County Executive Stenger as he will begin another term with both the Council and Prosecuting Attorney lined up against him. If Stenger operated at all honestly his job would be easy. Written by Paul Dribin.

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Two years ago, Sam Page asked me for a favor.

We had been talking for a couple of weeks about his work behind the scenes to help St. Louis County create a prescription drug monitoring program to fight the opioid epidemic. As a physician and state lawmaker, Page had worked extensively on the issue, but he was stymied by another physician-lawmaker, Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, who consistently protected Missouri’s status as the only state in the nation without such a program.

So Page, the chairman of the St. Louis County Council, with the help of the medical community and full support of his then-ally, St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, helped set St. Louis County up to operate its own program, which has turned into a de facto state monitoring program, with more than half of the state’s population now covered by it.

I planned to break the news ahead of Stenger’s planned announcement, and Page asked me not to. The county executive wanted the headline, Page said, and he wanted him to have it.

So I waited. Stenger got his headline.

And it probably contributed to his win Tuesday, narrowly holding on to his seat by defeating challenger Mark Mantovani by around 1,000 votes. The election hasn’t been certified yet as there are still ballots being tallied. Stenger will face Republican Paul Berry, III, and Libertarian Nick Kasoff in November, but neither are expected to be well-funded candidates. So unless Mantovani or the election board find any voting oddities, Stenger wins.

By winning, though, the county executive may have actually lost. And the opioid issue is a perfect example of why.

A politician who doesn’t care about credit builds coalitions.

Stenger picks fights.

He and Page would soon be at odds over everything, mostly because the County Council chairman started to discover that Stenger was deceiving the council — on a plan to bump up Prosecutor Robert McCulloch’s pension, on a proposal to sell part of Creve Coeur Lake Memorial Park, on a bridge to nowhere, and on a scheme to move millions of dollars in county office leases to property owned by the county executive’s top donor.

Page asked questions and got shut out.

The pattern played out in county offices, too, as department head after department head quit or was forced out after they asked questions or stood up for good public policy.

In winning, Stenger said voters sent a message:

“Today’s victory shows that voters believe we are moving St. Louis County in the right direction,” he said Tuesday night.

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Seen another way, voters left Stenger all alone on an island.

Challenger Lisa Clancy defeated Councilman Pat Dolan, Stenger’s last reliable ally on a council that now questions his every move. Voters approved at least one proposition meant to shift some balance of power away from Stenger and to the council, as a check to his power.

And voters overwhelmingly defeated McCulloch, perhaps Stenger’s most important supporter, who had used his office to go after Councilman Ernie Trakas when he questioned the county executive, and had refused to investigate Stenger when council investigations raised serious questions about the improper influence of donors or Sunshine Law violations.

Wesley Bell, who will become the new prosecuting attorney, might be more receptive to investigating the office of the county executive. So Stenger’s next four years, if he lasts that long, might be more uncomfortable than the first.

It didn’t have to be this way. And it still doesn’t.

If Stenger wants to leverage his narrow victory into a real opportunity for success, a path forward exists.

He could call Attorney General Josh Hawley tomorrow and commit to no more Sunshine Law violations and find a way to make that lawsuit go away.

He could accept the council’s decision to force new appointments to the Port Authority and stop trying to use that body as his personal piggy bank to help select donors.

He could commit to working on consensus with the council when it comes to developing policy priorities and awarding contracts and making appointments to boards.

He could follow Mantovani’s lead and commit to not accepting donations from companies seeking contracts with the county.

And he could actually start showing up at council meetings and rebuilding relationships with the body that voters expect him to work with to manage taxpayer dollars wisely.

This path forward is not unknown to Stenger. It’s the same one he suggested for the nephew of a major donor in the fall of 2015 when he wrote a letter to a federal judge and asked for leniency in sentencing for a convicted drug dealer:

“(He) understands and accepts full responsibility for his actions,” Stenger wrote at the time, “but also is aware that he must disassociate himself from those who would participate in illegal activity. He has made every effort to move forward in a positive way.”

Strong words. Stenger could take them to heart. Or not.


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Messenger: Last-minute dark money from Sinquefield seeks to fool St. Louis County voters

Obscure fire committee appears again to help county executive consolidate power.

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Public Housing in Hong King

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Urban Parks

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A good New York Times article about a new urban park in Tulsa funded by a billionaire. Can parks bring urban peace and development?

Criminal Justice Reform

The election of Mr. Bell as County Prosecutor could help in at least a couple ways. Certainly he will be a champion of bail and criminal justice reform. The present system horribly preys on people of limited means and makes their situations worse. Second, he will stand up to County Executive Stenger who needs to be brought under control. Written by Paul Dribin

THE CITY OF ST. LOUIS REENTERING ST. LOUIS COUNTY – Cities Strong

THE CITY OF ST. LOUIS REENTERING ST. LOUIS COUNTY – Cities Strong
— Read on citiesstrong.com/hello-world-4/

A challenging article by Terry Jones in the difficulties of St Louis City joining the county

Can Affordable Housing Development Lead to Gentrification

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An interesting article from the Times. A New York City neighborhood builds more mixed income housing in an effort to increase affordable housing. Some neighborhood residents complain they will be pushed out. There do not seem to be any good answers. Written by Paul Dribin

Negative Attitudes Toward Welfare

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An interesting article in the New York Times that use of government programs has risen but people hate the term welfare.

Criminal Justice Reform

I attended a great meeting at St. Louis University yesterday. The subject of the meeting was prison and criminal justice reform. The sponsors of the meeting in addition to SLU were the Clark-Fox Foundation, and The Criminal Justice Ministry.

At the meeting we heard from ex offenders or returned citizens as they are now called. They described their journeys and difficulties engaging life after being in prison. There were many significant statistics described at the meeting which are too numerous to convey here. The take away for me is that our present system unfairly penalizes too many poor people and that the parole and reentry process are set up for failure. Far too many non violent offenders spend too much time in jail. Non violent drug offenses are the biggest problem. Written by Paul Dribin

Building Permits in St. Louis Total $1.1 Billion

Lyda Krewson Issued a statement today on Facebook verifying this total. That is an all time high for St. Louis. Great news!

Biddle House Will Scale Back One-Stop Homeless Services Under New Provider | News Blog

Starting next week, the city’s primary homeless shelter, Biddle House, will drop services for people not staying overnight. The services, which currently include lunch for…
— Read on www.riverfronttimes.com/newsblog/2018/07/27/biddle-house-will-scale-back-one-stop-homeless-services-under-new-provider

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