After Tuesday’s St. Louis County Council’s meeting, critics are blasting Councilman Sam Page’s decision to combine a bill that seemed like an easy pass with one that reduces St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney’s pension.
St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger and St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch on Tuesday were critical of the legislation, saying it was a political maneuver to get the bill passed.
The first part of the legislation would require newly hired St. Louis County employees to make a 4 percent contribution to the county’s retirement system, which could save the county $27 million over the next 10 years and $300 million over the next 30.
But the bill remains controversial as it also includes a rollback to previously approved pension benefits to St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch’s retirement plan.
Last fall, the St. Louis County Council unanimously approved changes that would allow McCulloch to gain access to full state and county pensions.
In the bill, if McCulloch would retire in 2018, he would gain around $20,000 more per year than if the changes were not set in place.
St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger said combining the two issues was a cowardly way to pass a reduction in McCulloch’s pension plan.
“(Councilman Sam Page) stuck the McCulloch pension issue onto the massive taxpayer savings bill because he wanted to reach his purpose of passing the McCulloch pension bill,” Stenger said. “Rather than moving the pieces of legislation separately, he took the cowardly way and attached it to a bill that no one could say no to.”
The legislation was passed 6-1 with Councilman Pat Dolan opposing the bill because of the effect it would have on the prosecuting attorney.
Councilwoman Hazel Erby also had a similar bill to Page’s that would rollback McCulloch’s pension benefits but decided not to call her legislation for a final vote.
Page argued with Stenger’s assessment and said the bill was a result of basic fairness and common sense.
“It’s just not fair to cut pension benefits for new employees and allow one county employee to have two full pensions for one job,” Page said. “It’s common sense to combine the two proposals and would be a waste to separate them out.”
Additionally, Page said he agreed with the county executive’s statement that pension reforms were needed but added that the council needed to also address the prosecuting attorney’s.
“We need to address the new pension liability due to raises given to existing employees,” he said. “The pension changes we passed only affect new employees, except the double pension for the prosecuting attorney.”
On Tuesday, McCulloch said it was curious that it took the council so long to address this issue when it was brought up earlier in the year.
“It appears that they reinstated the automatic one-third reduction of the prosecutor’s county pension,” McCulloch said. “I realize that’s their determination to make but keep in mind just about a year ago they voted unanimously on the recommendation of the pension board to eliminate that reduction and that included Sam Page and Hazel Erby.”
McCulloch also added that it took Councilmembers Sam Page, Hazel Erby, Ernie Trakas and Rochelle Walton Gray so long to craft the legislation because they worked with Garry Earls, who had been a senior adviser to former County Executive Charlie Dooley.
“(They) were figuring out a way with Earls help to manipulate it so they could do it in this fashion,” he said. “It’s just disappointing that they make a decision and then roll over and play dead and act like it never happened. I just hope Dr. Page reads his patients’ charts a lot closer than he reads these bills. I’d be very afraid.”