To help you feel more connected to and involved with your County government, each week I'll be sharing with you the report that I present at the County Council meetings. You are welcome to attend County Council meetings; they are open to the public and feature time for public comment.
Below is the County Executive Report I delivered during the December 17, 2019 County Council meeting.
Thank you, Ernie, and good afternoon everyone.
Twenty nineteen was a heck of a year. For most of you, it was your first year on the County Council. For me, it was my first few months as County Executive, and with this office comes an awesome responsibility, an opportunity to make government work for everyone, to tackle challenges left discarded and to create a more open, transparent place to work, to do business, and to serve our residents.
We have passed more than 300 pieces of legislation and appointed 90 people to our boards and commissions.
We’ve leveraged bipartisan support to move our government forward and thanks to each of you for your help.
I have signed nine Executive Orders - focusing on our Justice Center, fair wages for women and racial minorities and prevailing wage.
Earlier today, the Civil Service Commission approved my request to provide paid family leave for all County employees.
My staff and I are working on an annual report, a requirement by Charter, that will put into detail all the great work we have accomplished in less than eight months. I look forward to sharing that report with the Council and with the public early next year.
Twenty nineteen made it clear the St. Louis County government had a lot of challenges. For five years, there was nobody minding the store in the executive branch of government, no leadership, no accountability, and you can’t leave the executive branch unattended and not expect any consequences. And while I’m proud of the work we have done so far, we have a lot to do in 2020.
Earlier this year, I refused to sign off on a proposal by HUD to demolish all the public housing in Wellston. With this pause, we have reached an agreement with the federal government to make sure that everyone in Wellston who wants to stay there will have a place to stay. But the process to create safe, affordable, quality public housing has a lot left to go. It’s a commitment we’ve made and that we will continue to make into next year.
My predecessor left messes that anyone, really greater than any of us could have imagined. While justice was doled out by the courts, we worked to restore trust in County government and will continue with that as our priority. But making change isn’t always easy. It’s not always headline-grabbing like the breathless coverage of the Loop Trolley or the name change of a street from the name of a former NFL team, but simply put, good government decisions should not be made on what the possible financial gain could come from them. What we do, day in and day out, may not be clickbait, but I’m okay with that.
For the first time ever, taxpayers in St. Louis County have a simple document that shows how our budget is constructed, where our revenues are, and what various taxes are collected and what they’re being used to accomplish. Showing what happens with our money, to our residents, and what they’ve paid for taxes is the new baseline of transparency. Every County government department under my direction is to conduct their business in full public view as much as possible. And we have a new County Counselor, a former federal prosecutor, to make sure that that happens.
We’ve heard criticisms from some who appear at our meetings that nothing has changed. I push back strongly with those comments. They simply aren’t true. Change isn’t always sexy. It’s seldom at a breakneck pace.
It’s not always something reporters care about covering, but change is happening, and in fundamental ways that will change government in St. Louis County for years to come.
The bad actions of one person have deeply damaged our government and placed doubt about our abilities to run government effectively. All of us on the dais have our work cut out for us, but I appreciate the efforts that are already underway.
Twenty nineteen spotlighted St. Louis County not always in ways that would make us proud. A pay-for-play scheme by my predecessor was followed later by a stunning jury award for one of our St. Louis County police officers. In 2020, we will continue working to improve our police department, and I’ve said before, change begins at the top. I’ve appointed four new police commissioners and they will meet as a new body on Thursday of this week. At that meeting, Keith Wildhaber will be officially recognized as a lieutenant and will lead the department’s new diversity inclusion unit.
The Wildhaber case has brought this County much embarrassment, a case that never should’ve been argued the way it was and put us in a national spotlight as a place where it’s okay to discriminate because the law allows that in Missouri. That’s not okay in any way, shape, or form. The former administration should not have let this case go to trial, ignoring the settlement offer that was on the table. But they did and now the taxpayers have to pay the price. This week, mediation begins between Keith’s attorneys and our County counselors to resolve this case. I hope this case moves forward quickly so Keith can get what he is due and the County can focus on making lasting change in the police department to ensure that all officers are treated fairly no matter who they are.
It’s an honor to serve as your County Executive. We’ll get through this dark storm that Stenger caused both with his aggressive transactional behavior that sent him to federal prison, but also with his apathy which led to the Wildhaber case going to trial.
I did not have a big enough mop when I took office - but the mess is getting cleaned up. The day-to-day good government in the County is the new normal and pay-to-play is dead. I will continue working to ensure that St. Louis County is the economic engine of our state and that the status quo is no longer the default position and more diverse voices have a seat at the table when all of our complex and serious decisions are made. Thank you, Ernie, and Happy New Year to everyone.