Let’s Cut A Mayoral Appointee To Save Money

city-hall3During the last Budget battle, City departments were told to slash payroll and did. This was done by new retirements and not filling old vacancies. Most everyone slashed payroll except Mayor Lyda Krewson. Her office got additional staff and more money.

Now, as it turns out, the Mayor doesn’t have to give up office staff to make a personal cost cutting choice.

St. Louis City is both a City and its own County. Like any other County in Missouri, we have elected or appointed offices performing county duties by state law- Assessor, Circuit Court Clerk, Collector of Revenue, Coroner/Medical Examiner, Prosecuting Attorney/Circuit Attorney, Public Administrator, Recorder of Deeds, Sheriff, and Treasurer.

We also have a License Collector and some other anomalies. Our County Recorder is also our City Vital Records Registrar. Our County Treasurer is also our City Treasurer and Parking Czar. Our City Comptroller is also our County Auditor. Our City Board of Aldermen and Board of Estimate and Apportionment are our County Commission/Council. Our Mayor is our County Executive. Our City Register is our County Clerk.

You can find our County offices on Page 772 of the 2015-2016 Missouri State Manual.

Our City Register/County Clerk is keeper of various records but, unlike, most other County Clerks, is not our Election Authority. Here, we do not run our own elections. The Governor appoints a Board of Election Commissioners to oversee our elections. Governor controls. We pay the bills. Local control via an elected Register/County Clerk would be better. But Rex Sinquefiled, the man who bought local control of the Police Department for St. Louis, doesn’t seem to be interested in empowering us to run our own elections.

With no reason to believe the Legislature is going to do St. Louis City any favors, and no sugar daddy to fund a ballot issue to force the state to return control of elections to us, we are pretty much free to consolidate the City Register with another office.

The City Register is a records center. Who else is in the public records business at City Hall? The Recorder of Deeds & Vital Records Registrar and City Comptroller. Either one of the offices would make good places to consolidate the Register.

How does this save money? The Register is a mayoral appointee. If you combine the office with another office and make the elected Recorder or Comptroller also the Register, you free up the salary of the previous mayoral patronage job. Comptroller would become Comptroller and Register. Or Recorder becomes Recorder of Deeds, Vital Records Registrar, and City Register.

That’s not to say the City Register does not put in a day’s work for a day’s pay. But by consolidating a three person office into a larger office, one where employees are cross trained to perform numerous functions and fill in when needed, cutting that appointee salary could be done.

What would be necessary to make this change? A charter amendment removing the Register from the list of mayoral appointees  and giving the Comptroller or Recorder the title of Register. Pretty sure voters would approve such an amendment and appreciate the opportunity to vote on something to cut a cost as opposed to raising a tax.

Mayor Krewson was in the reform camp as a alderwoman. Here’s a reform waiting for her to take the lead on.

In fact, the Mayor could do it tomorrow without a charter amendment. She could appoint the Comptroller or Recorder as Register in the interim until a charter amendment could be passed.

Far fetched? Not really. It was considered by Mayor Francis Slay early in his first term. He had worked to consolidate Vital Records with the Recorder of Deeds and was interested in also consolidating the Register with Recorder.

Does getting rid of one salary save a lot of money? No.

But is there a good reason to keep the Register a mayoral appointee? No.

Go ahead. Ask the Mayor. There’s no checks and balances rationale for maintaining this post as a reward to a supporter.

And if the Mayor doesn’t lead on this, then, hopefully, someone at the Board of Aldermen will.

— Marie Ceselski, 7th Ward Democratic Committeewoman

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So Much More To Treasurer & Banker Story – Updated 12/26/2016

vote-quoteWhen I first read the St. Louis Post-Dispatch headline “Banker convicted of felonies in 1995 now doing business with St. Louis treasurer”, my first reaction was, what an odd headline for a story about redemption, about Treasurer Tishaura Jones walking the walk on Ban the Box.

Then I read the first paragraphs and I thought, there is more to this story. It must have a bad ending and it’s about a Ban the Box failure. But, I was confused because the writer was not a St. Louis Post-Dispatch business, public finance, or crime reporter. Something big going on in the Treasurer’s Office certainly should have an expert assigned to it. But that was not the case.

The writer is human interest columnist Joe Holleman. Earlier this year, he wrote an unflattering human interest piece about a Ferguson activist hired by the Treasurer’s Office.

At the time of that column, I thought it was a missed opportunity to report on the hiring practices of patronage offices. Holleman included a link to the online job notice but either did not know or did not care that advertising jobs was something Tishaura Jones brought to the Treasurer’s Office. It was one of many changes to make it a modern, professional office. He chose not to report on government reform. He chose to focus on the colorful side of a Treasurer employee. That’s what he does.

I read Joe Holleman’s columns and have enjoyed much of his writing. But I understand a lot of it is opinion. Sometimes, he gets to relay interesting tidbits about local media and celebrities which I find interesting from time to time.

So, I read Joe Holleman’s column about the banker who went to prison for fraud relating to the election of the Treasurer’s father, former Comptroller Virvus Jones. The banker did not commit any crimes involving public monies or contracts. The banker was rehabilitated and became licensed in securities again. The Treasurer’s Office hired a company that hired the banker. The company saved the City money.

The story that Joe Holleman wrote could have been a completely different story with a different headline:

“Underwriter hired by City Treasurer saves City $5 Million”

“City Treasurer bans the box, a success story”

But he didn’t. And if the information in this story was so important to warrant the attention of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and publish it above the fold, why isn’t there a call for the State Auditor to investigate?

And, why didn’t Holleman ask each of the mayoral candidates to comment on Banning the Box, something each of the serious candidates running previously supported, as well as comment on this particular hire?

And, why did the story happen how? Treasurer Jones was just re-elected with 76% of the vote, 96,005 votes. She had no Primary opponent. If there was something untoward going on in the Treasurer’s Office, why didn’t Holleman write about it before Fall elections filing closed? Someone might have filed against her in the primary if this story had legs.

And, why didn’t Holleman write this before the General Election? Voters had two other candidates to choose from and the option not to vote at all for her.

But the story has no legs. The goal here is not to get an investigation into the business of the Treasurer’s Office. It’s about creating newspaper images for a hit piece campaign mailing by a candidate for Mayor or a PAC trying to influence the mayoral election, like one of Rex Sinqefield’s. Said hit piece will be targeted to certain voters in South City wards.

The real story here is that Tishaura Jones is the candidate to beat in the mayoral election, the front runner. If Jones were polling poorly, this story would have never happened.

You might be thinking, Board President Lewis Reed has run and won citywide and he did well against Mayor Francis Slay four years ago. Isn’t he the front runner? No. He is not.

As a matter of disclosure, in 2007, I gave a large check and volunteer time to Reed’s election as Board President when he challenged President Jim Shrewsbury. He was soon a disappointment. Four years ago, I endorsed Mayor Slay for re-election and on the condition that it would be the last time. I regretted that endorsement the day of the election and haven’t stopped since. But, I did not then, nor now, see Reed as a viable alternative. He has not stood up to the Mayor on much of anything, has not served as a checks and balances on power of the Mayor.

In 2013, Reed won 44% of the vote to Slay’s 54%. That should have made him the leading candidate this election. Except many of the votes he got four years ago were people who wanted change and were “anyone but Slay” votes. This time there is a big field of candidates to choose from. His 90%-95% voting record with Mayor Slay on Board of Estimate and Apportionment has cost him any claim to being a change agent. And he now has a problem with women voters. More on Reed later.

What about 28th Alderwoman Lyda Krewson, isn’t she a leading candidate? Yes. Krewson is a leading candidate by virtue of having a lot of money in her re-election account and started campaigning shortly after Mayor Slay announced his retirement. But she is not the leading candidate.

As a matter of disclosure, in 2002, I gave money and, more importantly, was a volunteer for Krewson’s unsuccessful run for Board President against Jim Shrewsbury. The office had just been vacated by Francis Slay who had been elected Mayor in 2001. I was living in the 23rd Ward then, a Shrewsbury friendly area. I went door to door for Krewson because I deeply believed in her. I have always personally liked her. I thought she would have been a good mayor eight years ago and even four years ago. But she never really stood up to Mayor Slay. That disappoints me and is the reason I could not consider her for mayor in 2017.

Krewson is the status quo candidate. You get four more years of Francis Slay type policies, four more years not standing up to Rex Sinquefield. She is not a change agent and not likely to get many of the votes who wanted change in 2013. But she does not get all of Mayor Slay’s 2013 votes either because many were not deeply committed to him. They would have voted for change if the candidate was other than Lewis Reed. More on Krewson later.

The rest of the candidates are 1% to 10% of the vote each. More on them later.

St. Louis City has had many years of unbridled corporate welfare for developers and sports teams while at the same time retaining status as #1 in syphilis, high infant mortality, 30% youth unemployment, and a growing crime problem treated cavalierly as a statistics problem that can be cured by re-entry into the county and more cameras. Board President Reed and each of the aldermen running for mayor has had years to do something about St. Louis City’s problems and, for the most part, done little to address citywide concerns.

This City is a hot mess. It is a bubbling cauldron of despair for large segments of the community. And it will get worse because of the unfortunate power the Missouri General Assembly has to make our lives miserable. This City needs change and the only change agent running is Treasurer Tishaura Jones, someone who changed the Treasurer’s Office for the better and can do that for our City. Her campaign isn’t about hope. It’s about work, hard work, working together across the City to make tough choices, smart moves with best practices, and standing up for what is right.

There is so much more to this story about the Treasurer and the Banker. But it isn’t about financial wrong doing or ethics. It’s about a dog whistle. Hear/See the name Virvus Jones. Here/See the word “convicted.” Vote against that even if you are voting against your own self interest. The real story here is that in order for Lyda Krewson to be elected, enough of you who want change have to be swayed to stay at home or vote for a candidate other than Jones.

Vote for the candidate of your choice. But, please, don’t cast your vote based on a dog whistle.

UPDATED 12/20/2016. Letter to the Editor from KAI Design & Build to St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Company unfairly included in story about convicted banker “We were disappointed to see KAI unfairly interjected into a politically slanted article written by reporter Joe Holleman. To our surprise, KAI was singled out in the article, while other companies that may have worked with Craig Walker in the past were left out…He offered to help us find new project opportunities in Champaign on a commissioned-basis. No dollars were ever paid to Craig from KAI, as no opportunity for work ever presented itself.”

UPDATED 12/22/2016. Response from KAI Design & Build in St. Louis American was longer: Unfairly interjected into politically slanted article

Updated 12/26/2016: news story in St. Louis AmericanTishaura responds to Post smear

Disclaimer: I write my own posts. I am not paid to work on any campaign. I have no family paid to work on any campaign. I am a City employee but not employed, nor have ever been employed, in the Treasurer’s office, or Board of Aldermen, or any business associated with any mayoral candidate. I have endorsed Tishaura Jones for Mayor.

— Marie Ceselski, 7th Ward Democratic Committeewoman