CLAYTON, MO – They say politics makes for strange bedfellows. A South County Republican taking his marching orders from North County Democrats to add more employees to county bureaucracy would prove them right.
It has become common knowledge that Ernie Trakas, who represents South County on the county council, has consistently voted with North County Democrats Rochelle Walton Gray from Black Jack, Hazel Erby from University City, and Sam Page of Creve Coeur to deliver a working Democratic majority.
However, emails obtained by The Clayton Times show the extent of the coordination between the members of the majority goes much deeper than public votes, and the extent to which the North County Democrats are seemingly calling the shots inside the coalition.
Of the collection of emails, the most revealing exchanges surrounded the Democratic majority’s efforts to add more county employees to their own staff, in particular, a Legislative Research Director.
The position has been opposed by more conservative members of the County Council as unnecessary and has stated that adding to their own staff at a time when there are so many other pressing needs that are unfunded.
Currently, under the charter, the County Counselor and his staff of 24 attorneys already perform the functions for the council, its opponents have outlined.
Bill 41 that would create the position of Legislative Research Office with an additional hire of an assistant and a secretary was sponsored by Councilwoman Rochelle Walton Gray and would appropriate funds for the new position.
It was on March 13 that Councilman Trakas wrote in an email to Gray, Erby, Page, and their current legislative staffs in which Trakas tells the Democrats that if Gray’s bill is worded a certain way it would help their bill from being resisted by St. Louis County Counselor Peter Krane.
“Attached is a revised version of Rochelle’s original substitute bill creating the Legislative Research Office. I made very few changes,” Trakas’ email said. “I think if we position the office as responsible for reviewing, re-drafting (as opposed to ‘drafting’), amending, etc., proposed legislation and other documents we get around any argument Peter Krane may put forth based on the Charter.”
In an email response back, Walton Gray began by thanking Trakas for proofreading her bill stating, “Thank you very much. Your time and effort is truly appreciated!”
Gray continued, “The changes are well taken. My only concern is the fact that the Counselors office has refused to draft bills, in the past,” Walton Gray said. “I’m not sure how that’s going to help if the Legislative Director is unable to draft our bills. Luckily, I’ve been able to get outside assist with my bills. Will speak with the others, to find out what they think.”
Trakas attacks Harder
Another set of emails unveils a clear element of hypocrisy in Trakas’ attacks on fellow council member and fellow Republican Mark Harder.
On March 28, the St. Louis County Council passed Bill 41 and in response, Republican Council member Mark Harder wrote a staunch critique of the legislation to County Republican Chairman Bruce Buwalda stating that the bill would be a waste of St. Louis County funds and that adding more employees was contrary to a conservative philosophy of government.
“At best guess the total for salary and benefits could easily range over $200,000 additional cost to the county,” Harder’s email states. “I consider this gross disrespect of taxpayers to attempt this and yet be asking for a tax increase to enable the county to bring the pay of our police officers up to just average of surrounding departments.”
In the email, Harder referred to Trakas and his Democratic colleagues as the “band of four,” and foreshadowed the current controversy by accusing the four of usurping the County Charter by hiring an inexperienced County Auditor.
Trakas then sent a response email to Buwalda. In an email to Buwalda, Trakas calls Harder “arrogant and disingenuous” for outrage regarding the impact of taxpayers and also suggested that Harder was having private meetings with Councilmember Pat Dolan and County Executive Steve Stenger.
“Finally, Mr. Harder infers that the member of the Council who voted to approve Bill 41 and who voted to hire a new County Auditor are rouge (I assume he means rogue) and not acting in the interest of County residents and taxpayers,” Trakas said. “Nothing is further from the truth. In fact, you should ask yourselves, and Mr. Harder, what he is doing in closed-door meetings with County Executive Steve Stenger and Mr. Stenger’s sole ally on the Council, Councilman Pat Dolan?”
Trakas attack on Harder for meeting with the County Executive who represents his district came little more than two weeks after sending emails confirming that he was helping craft legislation along with Page, Erby, and Gray.
Stenger ultimately objected to the bill, and there weren’t enough votes on the County Council to counter Stenger’s veto. The requirement was five.
Walton Gray eventually withheld the bill and introduced an identical one that would only hire a Legislative Research Director.