Sharon Carpenter Was A Public Health Nuisance

UPDATED 10/16/2014 with quote from Riverfront Times cover story, “Sharon Carpenter’s Strange Fight for the Recorder of Deeds Office,” by Danny Wicentowski.

“I know she smoked in her office, all the time. She’d smoke in the bathroom, too. She wasn’t a light smoker,” says Harry Kennedy, a former state representative and senator whom Carpenter hired two years ago to run the office’s community outreach programs.


 

Before I moved to St. Louis City, the Recorder of Deeds Office in City Hall was a smoking office with very few employees who did not smoke. Most desks had ash trays. We’re not talking Mad Men Era here. We’re talking 1992. 1992memo

The following is my understanding of the smoking problem in the City Recorder’s office. I wrote something nearly identical and submitted it to new Recorder Jennifer Florida on September 23, 2014.

Since I wrote that memo, the following occurred: the 1992 No Smoking (except in the lunchrooms) Inter-Office Communication surfaced; an ink bottle, I believe part of a pen and quill gift many years back to then Recorder of Deeds Sharon Quigley Carpenter, used by her as an ashtray, was found in the former Recorder’s office; and Recorder employees recalled an incident over the past year in which a large quantity of cigarette butts had been flushed down the toilet in then Recorder Carpenter’s private restroom and required a maintenance call.

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I have been in the employ of the City of St. Louis in the Recorder of Deeds Office, as an archivist, for nearly twenty years. The following is my account, as an employee, regarding the smoking of cigarettes in the Recorder’s Office.

There was, until recently, a cigarette smoking culture in the Recorder of Deeds Office. All employees were subject to second-hand smoke. Employees who smoked were permitted longer morning and afternoon breaks and sometimes bonded with the Recorder by smoking with her in her office. The nonsmokers were permitted their own lunchroom in the basement in a plaster peeling, foundation crumbling, moldy, insect plagued, filthy area of City Hall.

On April 28, 2003, then St. Louis City Recorder of Deeds Sharon Quigley Carpenter issued a memo to employees, intended to update the dress code, but which also included her cigarette smoking policy for the office.

4. Smoking within the office is restricted to the Recorder’s Upstairs Lunchroom (1st Floor) and designated private offices by authorization of the Recorder. The Downstairs Lunchroom (Basement) is strictly a No-Smoking Area.

The purpose of this rule is A) health of employees and general public, B) prevention of damage to work product (documents) and equipment, and C) to maintain a professional customer service environment.
rules1 rules2

On July 18, 2003, the St. Louis City Board of Aldermen passed an ordinance, and the Mayor later signed into law, a prohibition on the smoking of tobacco in City owned buildings. See Ordinance 65991, St. Louis City Revised Code Chapter 11.32.

Passage of the ordinance did not stop smoking in the Recorder’s Office. I and other employees were told by then Recorder Carpenter and Chief Deputy Peggy Meeker that the “county” offices were not obliged to follow the City ordinance.

On October 29, 2009, the St. Louis City Board of Aldermen passed an ordinance, and the Mayor signed into law, the St. Louis City Smoke Free Air Act of 2009, prohibiting the smoking of tobacco in most public buildings. See Ordinance 68481, St. Louis City Revised Code Chapter 11.31.

There was a memo to our office, it may have been from Supply Commissioner Freddie Dunlap, who also oversaw Building Facilities Management, with a fixed date at which time smoking was to cease in our office. I do not recall the date or even whether it was before or after passage of the citywide smoking ban.

Smoking later ceased in the Recorder’s lunchroom and private offices, but not in then Recorder Carpenter’s private office.

I showed then Chief Deputy Meeker a copy of Ordinance 68481 and pointed out that the City, Recorder Carpenter, and she, as office manager, could be sued under the ordinance for failure to enforce the smoking ban. She told me it was none of my business.

City employees and customers complained about the smoking in the Recorder’s Office. Complaints were made to Mayor Slay, the City Health Department, Citizens Service Bureau, City Marshals, and aldermen.

On one occasion, a letter written to Mayor Slay or Health Department regarding smoking in the Recorder’s Office was forwarded to the Recorder’s Office. The result: then Chief Deputy Meeker investigated the handwriting of employees to try and find a match with the hand addressed envelope. I do not recall the date.

On many occasions, complaints on smoking were made to the Citizens Service Bureau and forwarded to the City Marshal at City hall or were made directly to the City Marshals at City Hall. To the best of my knowledge, there is no record of any of these complaints.

A complaint would usually result in a City Marshal coming to then Recorder Carpenter’s Room 126 private office and the doors to the private office would be shut and industrial strength air freshener used. I do not know if the spray was purchased as an office supply or from private funds.

On Tuesday, January 28, 2011, Citizens Service Bureau logged in a complain regarding smoking in the Recorder’s Office:

why does Milos on Hill have to prohibit smoking but you allow smoking inside city hall at deeds dept the room marked private, the recorders office not assessors

A week later, on Tuesday, February 4, 2011, this complaint received the following response by Community Sanitation, City Health Department:

no evidence of ash trays, smoke in rooms 129a and title company in city hall at time of inspection  no evidence of violation
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In addition to being a week later, the investigation occurred at the wrong location. Room 129a is the Recorder’s Archives Department, where some of the City’s oldest public records are located. The adjacent title company office, which is rented from the City, is across the hall form the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s City Hall office.

The 129a Archives office has a smoke detector and the alarm would have sounded if there had been any smoking in either the Archives or title company office. The alarm has never gone off. It also stands to reason that if the Recorder or Chief Deputy Recorder ever thought the archivists were smoking in their office, then there should have been an internal investigation on the matter, but there was none.

I do not know how the investigator ended up at the alternate locations. I only know one title company employee was in tears after being falsely accused of smoking in the office.

On Saturday, March 15*, 2011, Citizens Service Bureau logged in a complaint regarding smoking in the Recorder’s Office:

room 126 Recorder of deeds personal office, has people smoking in there on a regular basis caller says

Over a week later, on Wednesday, March 24, 2014, this complaint was forwarded to the Health Department and responded to by Community Sanitation:

2nd complaint no evidence of smoking at time of inspection     no evidence of violation
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On Wednesday, May 14, 2014, Citizens Service Bureau logged in a complaint regarding smoking in the Recorder’s Office:

Caller says smoking is occurring in City Hall, room 126, Recorder of Deeds, this occurred on 5/14/14 around 2:25 pm; it really smelled like cigarette smoke throughout that room citizen reports.

There was no investigation of this complaint, only the following notation:

Service Request did not import into Healthspace. Community Sanitation first made aware 5/16/14 not 5/14/14.
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Then Recorder Carpenter kept infrequent, irregular hours at her City Hall office in more recent years. Any investigation of a smoking complaint in other than a timely manner was never going to produce anything other than a “no evidence” finding with regard to the smell of smoke.

When not in use, then Recorder Carpenter’s yellow/gold glass ashtray, pack of cigarettes, and lighter, were usually kept in the right hand drawer of her desk. Any investigation of a smoking complaint that did not involve looking into her desk drawers was never going to produce anything other than a “no evidence” finding with regard to finding an ashtray and cigarettes.

Then Recorder Carpenter smoked in her office during some meetings- including but not limited to meetings with Recorder employees, smokers and nonsmokers alike, and elected officials. When, prior to a meeting, there was some question as to a nonemployee’s feelings about smoking, the ashtray, cigarettes, and lighter were removed to the drawer and her private office would be blasted with the industrial strength air freshener.

Recorder employees were required to purchase packs of cigarettes for then Recorder Carpenter’s use when they were given assignments to secure her lunch and/or fill up the gas tank to her City car and/or get her City car washed.

There was no smoke detector in then Recorder Carpenter’s private office despite the private office being home to a 43-year-old mural by Joseph Bufalo on the entire south wall.

I have personally witnessed former Recorder Carpenter smoking in her private office many times. The last time was in 2013.

I have personally witnessed former Recorder Carpenter smoking in her City vehicle many times. The last time was in 2012.

I have personally seen former Recorder Carpenter’s ashtray with cigarette butts on her desk in her private office at City Hall many times. The last time was in June 2014.

I have personally smelled former Recorder Carpenter’s second-hand smoke at the Recorder’s Office many times. The last time was in the second week of July 2014.

– Marie Ceselski

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