County Executive Sam Page, a Democrat, and Republican Paul Berry are running for the county executive seat in the election Tuesday, Nov. 3, after winning their respective primaries in August.
Berry did not return The Call’s candidate questionnaire for the November election. The answers from Berry in this article are from the questionnaire he submitted for the Republican primary in August, which he did not fully complete.
Berry, 11932 Barbara Drive, Maryland Heights, did not provide any personal information on his questionnaire.
Page, 55, 17 Windsor Terrace Lane, Creve Coeur, is the current county executive and former 2nd District County Council member. He succeeded former County Executive Steve Stenger, who resigned in April 2019 in the wake of federal corruption charges. Page and his wife, Jennifer, have three children: Logan, Luke and Jake.
Page attended the University of Missouri-Kansas City for both undergraduate studies and medical school. He has been a doctor for 28 years, studying anesthesiology.
Page is a former Creve Coeur councilman (1999 to 2002) and state representative (2003 to 2009).
When asked why he was seeking office, Page said, “I went to medical school to help people. I ran for office for the same reason. I’ve served the people of St. Louis County as a city councilman, a state representative, a County Council member and now as the county executive. When as County Councilman I started to express my concerns about the ongoing corruption in county government, which led to the investigation into Steve Stenger, I never expected that he would go to federal prison. I certainly didn’t expect that I would take his place. But every experience prepares you for the next, and I’m glad that the experiences I have had — as a member of city, state, and county government, and as a medical doctor — have prepared me to lead this county through what is one of the most challenging and dangerous times in our history. I was committed to running before the COVID-19 pandemic and before the murder of George Floyd, and I’m even more committed to running now. People’s lives are at stake, and that’s where I focus my attention. This is not a game. The person who leads the county over the next two years needs to be able to hit the ground running. This is no time for on-the-job learning. This is a time for taking action, and my record over the last almost year and a half — which anyone can see with their own eyes — shows that I’m the leader who can keep us safe, and move us forward. My experience as a medical doctor, and my on-the-ground experience as county executive, make me uniquely suited to remain county executive as we move forward. I know what this job takes, and I would be honored to have your vote.”
What issue do you consider the single most important in this race and why?
Berry did not respond.
Page: “This election is about leadership. It’s about who can share their vision for the county, and who can build the diverse coalition we need to make that vision a reality. It’s about who has the experience and the knowledge to keep you and your family safe. The most important issue in any race is who can do the job best. I can tell you — this job is not easy. During the almost year and a half that I have been the county executive, we have gone through three crises: cleaning up the mess left by Stenger and his administration, managing the health, humanitarian and economic crisis that is COVID-19, and a powerful civil rights movement that demands we finally address the systemic racism that has held our region back for far too long. We are leading the county through these things in a thoughtful manner, keeping the health and welfare of the residents as the top priority. Voters can see with their own eyes what we’ve done — implementing historic ethics reforms at the county; being one of the first jurisdictions in the country to issue stay-at-home orders — which was not popular at the time but saved countless lives; spending CARES Act funding efficiently, effectively, and equitably while providing unparalleled transparency for that spending through a transparency portal and Oversight Committee; and providing the kind of steady, honest leadership the people of St. Louis County deserve.”
Will you accept campaign contributions from developers with projects or contracts proposed at the county level? What are your thoughts on the county executive negotiating leases or contracts with businesses owned by campaign contributors?
Berry: “Any person who has ever donated to any of my previous (or future) political campaigns received the same answer when I was asked what I am going to do for them. Two words, great government. The potential conflict of interest issues involving developers and campaign donations to St. Louis County executives has been partly resolved by St. Louis County campaign finance limitations currently in effect. The second part of resolving this issue will occur by transparency reforms I intend to bring to all divisions of St. Louis County government as your next St. Louis County executive.”
Page: “No, I will not accept campaign contributions from developers with projects or contracts or proposals in front of the County for decision. It is inappropriate for the county executive to negotiate leases or contracts. This should be left to the professional staff without political interference.”
Do you support a merger of St. Louis County and St. Louis city?
Berry: “I am absolutely opposed to the merger of St. Louis County and the city of St. Louis.”
Page: “No. It’s not the time to discuss a merger of the city and the County. But it is time to talk about how we can work together. I’m in regular contact with the leadership of St. Louis City, St. Charles County, Franklin County and Jefferson County, particularly during recent months as we deal with the pandemic. We have a great working relationship, and we’ll continue. But, as we begin to recover economically from the pandemic, it will be even more important to work together to attract businesses to our region, stimulate growth throughout the region, and improve the resources we have in every ZIP code. St. Louis County is not an island, and we can’t operate like it is. For St. Louis County to succeed, the entire region must succeed. That’s why we’re working with St. Louis city to build a professional, ethical Economic Development to Partnership to attract businesses to our region. ZIP code should not be a measure of success in health outcomes, nor should it be one in economic opportunity. People choose where they want to live and operate their businesses by the resources available to them in that place. Our goal should be to provide those resources, among them excellent education, public safety, culture, and appropriate support from the government when necessary.”
What is your greatest accomplishment for the county?
Berry did not respond.
Page: “My greatest accomplishment has been saving lives. It’s easy to forget, but back in March when we had just a handful of COVID-19 cases, quite a few people questioned my decision to issue stay-at-home orders so quickly. But because of my medical background and training, I’m used to making fast, level-headed decisions with limited information in life-or-death situations, I made the call that I knew had to be made. I didn’t need an extra day or two to get a better feel for what the data was telling me. A delay of a day or two would have cost lives. The decision to issue a stay-at-home order so quickly wasn’t the politically popular one, at least not at the time, but it was the one that saved lives, and continues to save lives. With your help and participation, we were able to flatten the curve quickly and did not have the devastation that other cities and countries have had. One death is too many, but working together we were able to prevent countless more.”
What measures, if any, will you propose to encourage economic development in South County?
Berry: “With advice from your St. Louis County Council person, I want to identify large properties in south St. Louis County that are located away from residential communities to establish business development that will support our current south St. Louis County. South St. Louis County is ripe for national corporate headquarter development districts. First, I will locate six locations in south St. Louis County that are deemed suitable for private industry to build corporate campuses for mid and large scale companies.
“Second, I will utilize current economic development tax credits offered by the State of Missouri to guarantee such state tax breaks to private companies who purchase property and relocate to six designated south St. Louis County locations. The increase of jobs in St. Louis County will also result in substantial increases in sales and property tax revenue generated by south St. Louis County and will also spur home construction and population growth throughout south St. Louis County. Further, the core responsibilities of any St. Louis County executive should always be to defend each St. Louis County citizen’s right to enjoy their home residence, while simultaneously getting all government out of the way of small business owners.”
Page: “This pandemic is not just a health care crisis. It’s also an economic and humanitarian crisis. The first step in our economic recovery is limiting the spread of COVID-19 in our community. We will continue to do that.
“Ten percent of our CARES Act funding has been set aside for a Small Business Relief Fund — a fund for small businesses to receive grants of up to $15,000 to help them through this crisis, including businesses in South County. It’s not as much as I’d like, but it’s something. When we were creating it, we recognized that we needed to make sure these funds were distributed quickly, but also were distributed in a transparent way so people can trust that they aren’t political favors. That’s why, rather than my administration giving out any grants or awards to small businesses, it’s up to each County Councilperson along with their local municipal leaders to review the applications and recommend awardees.
“When I became county executive, I knew we needed to rebuild trust between residents and the government. That’s also true with businesses. We need it to be as easy as possible for good businesses to operate and to thrive. My administration understands our role to provide quality customer service, and we are constantly trying to improve communication between the administration and County businesses. While we have come a long way since the Stenger administration to restore trust and accountability, we have more to do.”
Read on for web exclusive questions and answers.
Other issues you perceive in your race and your position on each:
Berry did not respond.
Page: “There are a lot of important issues in this race. All of them need leaders who are afraid to make tough decisions. Some of those issues are:
“Public health, especially surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and addressing health disparities due to economic status, ZIP code and race;
“Public safety, including criminal justice reform;
“The economy, focusing on keeping it afloat during the pandemic, rebuilding it when it’s time, creating failsafes for the future, and making sure that all are able to participate and receive a living wage, benefits and paid leave;
“Education, making sure our kids have the ability to learn in a safe way, and that we are protecting their health, and the health of their families, teachers, faculty, and staff.”
Do you believe the St. Louis County Planning Commission is responsive to county residents? How long should appointees serve on the Planning Commission? Is there anything about the zoning process that should change?
Berry: “Dealing with St. Louis County Planning Commission can be a daunting task for most small businesses, which needs to change. I am also concerned that zoning requests that truly affect the fabric of South County residential neighborhoods are being ignored. The main difference between South St. Louis City and South St. Louis County residential neighborhoods is South St. Louis City encourages business traffic incorporated in their residential neighborhoods. South St. Louis County neighborhood residents have absolutely no interest in bringing unnecessary business traffic where they sleep and enjoy their front yards, and as a matter of the wishes of South St. Louis residents, this should be respected.
“As St. Louis County executive, I intend on restructuring St. Louis County Planning Commission during my two-year special term, as follows (a): each St. Louis County Council person will appoint two St. Louis County Planning Commissioners, and each St. Louis County Planning Commissioner appointed by such St. Louis County Council person shall be from a different political party and serve a two-year term, (b) St. Louis County executive will appoint one St. Louis County Planning Commissioner per each St. Louis County Council District and (c) when St. Louis County Planning Commission votes in favor or denial of a zoning request and any St. Louis County Planning Commissioner appointed to the St. Louis County Council District in question opposes the result of such Commission vote, such St. Louis County Planning Commissioner shall testify by written statement or in person before the St. Louis County Council of the basis or reasoning such St. Louis County Planning Commissioner believes such St. Louis County Planning Commission vote is not in the best interest of the St. Louis County District in question. Our St. Louis County Planning Commission is an advisory committee, the main function is to provide business experience and community input to our elected St. Louis County Council members so intelligent and sensible zoning decisions are made.”
Page: “All aspects of county government should be responsive to residents, and the Planning Commission should be no different. While not everyone will be satisfied with every decision, everyone needs equal access and fair process. The voices of South County residents must be heard in the process. Planning Commission members serve to balance the concerns of property owners and their neighbors when there is an opportunity for new development and new commerce and jobs. They are appointed to three-year terms and are eligible for reappointment.
“There was a five-year backlog of appointments when I took office. We made great progress on this backlog prior to COVID-19 and continue to review the 74 boards and commissions and 450 appointments made by the county executive.”
What is your position on incorporation?
Berry: “Municipal incorporation (including mergers of municipalities) in St. Louis County should be the decision of the unincorporated residents in question, which should require a vote of 70 percent of such St. Louis County unincorporated residents. This is solely my opinion, incorporation and mergers of municipalities in St. Louis County are currently regulated by a set of laws that do not provide for my public policy position on this matter. The committee responsible for approving proposed municipal jurisdictional boundary changes should have such authority abolished in favor of the same system utilized by the rest of the state of Missouri, which is a vote by the affected Missouri citizens.”
Page: “South County is the largest unincorporated area in the County. They receive police, road and other municipal services from St. Louis County. No matter where you live, unincorporated or part of a municipality, quality service is paramount. We are proud of the service St. Louis County provides and our relationship with the community. I see no reason for change.”
Should the county executive attend County Council meetings?
Berry: “Any St. Louis County executive should regularly attend County Council meetings.”
Page: “Yes. Unlike my predecessor, I attend the County Council meetings each week. During those meetings, I provide a detailed report of the work of my administration over the past week, as well as set policy agendas and discuss the county’s reaction to current events. The county executive does not exist on an island, and the County Council doesn’t either. Both must work together in order to have the best outcomes for the county as a whole.”
Should the county issue stay-at-home orders and mask mandates during a pandemic?
Page: “Yes. We have already issued both. St. Louis County was among the first in the country to issue stay-at-home orders back in March, which prevented thousands of deaths. We issued a mask mandate during the summer, and we stand by that decision. Everyone should be wearing masks in public. We hope the rest of Missouri follows suit for a statewide mask order. We hope not to need another stay-at-home order.”
Are you satisfied with the direction the county is headed?
Berry: “Absolutely not. St. Louis County is facing a true crossroads and if we do not immediately change how St. Louis County government operates, we will transform into the city of Chicago within five years. St. Louis County requires a St. Louis County executive who understands all parts of our beloved county and is ready to address serious issues facing our future, from day one.”
Page: “Yes. If you’d asked me this question before April of 2019, I would have said no. Steve Stenger’s administration left a deep wound across the county. Unmet promises, lies … the list goes on. Government should be a thing people can trust to serve them, not to serve their own interests. The process of rebuilding that trust has been slow, but we are dedicated to making it happen.”
Are cuts needed to balance the county’s budget? What do you see as the status of county finances?
Berry: “As simple math provides, when St. Louis County takes in less sales tax dollars than projected during any fiscal year, the end result requires budgetary cuts to our St. Louis County budget. To answer the question directly, St. Louis County will require budget cuts due to the loss of sales tax revenue from COVID-19 shutdown. St. Louis County needs to reimagine how we generate sales and property tax revenue (by growth of tax base and not by gouging property owners) to meet St. Louis County’s obligations to our citizens. While St. Louis County maintains a positive credit rating utilized by government lending institutions, I am very concerned about the effect of St. Louis County homeowners and businesses fleeing St. Louis County over the next few years.
“As St. Louis County executive, my process for establishing our St. Louis County budget is outlined as follows: (a) review all current St. Louis County spending and operations for effectiveness, waste and fraud, (b) establish the liabilities, responsibilities and priorities of St. Louis County government for the upcoming fiscal year, (c) organize and lead St. Louis County government in a manner to effectively provide government duties and services based upon the requirements of our Constitution and Charter, (d) inform and provide access for input from St. Louis County businesses and citizens of our budgetary choices to meet the liabilities, responsibilities and priorities of St. Louis County government.”
Page: “For our County budget to recover, we need our economy to recover. So we have created an Economic Rescue Team made up of business leaders, labor leaders and the Heartland St. Louis Black Chamber of Commerce. This team includes South County residents. This team will help our business community and economy get back on track.
“We’ve also been working over the last year to sell some of the vacant property owned by St. Louis County; I’m glad that those deals are moving forward and giving our community some significant sources of revenue when we need it the most.
“We are also dedicated to spending the CARES Act funding efficiently and effectively, and that’s because the timing truly matters. Any CARES Act funding that is not spent by the end of this calendar year is forfeited. That means that if we do not use those funds wisely – and in a timely manner – that the taxpayers of the County will be on the hook for anything that could have been paid for with those federal funds. CARES fund spending can be tracked at Stlcorona.com on the Transparency Portal.
“And most importantly, public health must come first; an economy cannot recover when people are sick, or are afraid of getting sick. But as we manage our health crisis, we are also managing our economic crisis, and we will continue to do so.”
Should the County Council have its own attorney besides the county counselor?
Berry: “Yes, with limitations that would be outlined in our St. Louis County Charter. St. Louis citizens are best served when our St. Louis County Council has access to independent legal advice when performing legislative functions on behalf of St. Louis County. The legal counsel I propose for St. Louis County Council would provide legal advice regarding the constitutionality of current and proposed laws to our St. Louis County Council, draft County legislation at the direction of St. Louis County Councilmembers, determine lawful appropriation of State of Missouri and Federal funds that require legislative appropriation by St. Louis County Council and draft any information request made by St. Louis County Councilmembers to any government entity (including St. Louis County), all of which would be performed independent of the St. Louis County Counselor.
“As a government entity, all legal interests of St. Louis County government should only be represented by one St. Louis County legal division, which should be performed by the Office of St. Louis County Counselor (and not an attorney employed by St. Louis County Council). The only situation where my proposed legal counsel provided to St. Louis County Council should be able to take court action on behalf of St. Louis County citizens is when the official actions of the Prosecuting Attorney or County Executive violates the clear rights of St. Louis County Council to perform their duties established by our St. Louis County Charter.”
Page: “The County Council should have its own attorney. The charter amendment that I sponsored to do so lost by 50 votes in a Countywide vote. Currently the County Counselor’s office has three divisions. One serves the County Council.”
What will you do to address the problems exposed by the unrest in Ferguson and nationwide protests after the death of George Floyd?
Berry: “St. Louis County is one step away from our government surrendering parts of our beloved County to socialism and anarchy. St. Louis County has ‘punted’ criminal justice issues to some consulting firm who are supposed to tell St. Louis County Police Department how they are supposed to conduct themselves and what changes they need to make. FUBAR! St. Louis County does not need any more consultants or studies to “address the problems exposed by the unrest in Ferguson”, St. Louis County needs to enforce the law against any person who damages property or threatens our residents.
“To answer the question, specifically, ‘to address the problems exposed by the unrest in Ferguson and nationwide protests after the death of George Floyd’, I propose the following policy changes to St. Louis Police Department (and municipal law enforcement operating in St. Louis County), as follows: (a) no law enforcement officer shall attempt or cause to restrict the breathing of any person, unless: (i) the same use of force to utilize the discharge of a firearm would otherwise be justified, (ii) the loss of control of an officer could reasonable lead to injury or death of officer and (iii) no person who has been restrained or is in correctional custody of law enforcement shall EVER have their breathing restricted by any corrections or law enforcement officer.
“The way to address racial issues in St. Louis County is to treat every resident and employee of St. Louis County equal and just treatment, which also means enforcing our laws against all St. Louis County residents equally.”
Page: “Racism is a public health crisis. It’s a simple fact that people are dying because they are black. Places that do not recognize that fact and do not treat it as the emergency it is will never succeed. My administration understood this fact before the murder of George Floyd, and it’s why every policy decision we have made, make, and will make is through an equity lens.
“So what has that looked like? Even before Mr. Floyd’s murder, the ‘8 Can’t Wait’ policies had already been implemented by the County police department. One of my first actions in office was to create our office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to help us increase minority participation in contracts. My first executive order was to prohibit questions about a candidate’s prior salary during County hiring decisions, because too often women and minorities are locked into lower salaries because of those kinds of questions. Last year, I directed one of my staff members to conduct full day anti-bias training for our police department – from first year officers to top brass. And when I saw the hundreds of vacant positions on our boards and commissions, I set to work filling those positions – and worked to diversify those boards and commissions.”
Should the city of St. Louis enter the county as a municipality?
Berry: “No. St. Louis County taking over county-level government services means St. Louis County has to provide such county-level government services under the debt agreements currently maintained by the City of St. Louis. If the City of St. Louis maintains their debt related to county-level government service borrowing (instead of St. Louis County assuming current debt agreements involving the City of St. Louis), the City of St. Louis would need to maintain their property tax revenue to satisfy such debt maintained by the City of St. Louis. It’s a horrible deal for St. Louis County taxpayers and I believe that issues plaguing North and South St. Louis County should be addressed over the failures of City of St. Louis leadership.”
Page: “While this is one proposed mechanism to merge the city and county, as I said in a previous question, this is not the right time to discuss a merger. For the city of St. Louis to be a municipality of St. Louis County, voters in both jurisdictions should vote to do so.”
How will you attract new businesses and jobs into the county?
Berry did not respond.
Page: “We must continue to attract the best and the brightest to the county to attract businesses here. Our stellar universities help, so do many of our amenities. We must also make it easier to do business with the County, which is why we are making our website more user-friendly and why we understand the importance of customer service in our departments. I’ve already helped bring thousands of jobs into the County and will continue to do so.”
How will you ensure transparency?
Berry did not respond.
Page: “Transparency has been central to my administration because I want you to see what your government is doing for you. When Steve Stenger resigned and went to prison, we had to rebuild trust with County residents. We were starting from less than zero. We immediately requested an audit of the County Government by State Auditor Nicole Galloway. We relinquished unilateral control of the Port Authority and appointed a group of business leaders to oversee the Economic Development Partnership. We incorporated a whistleblower policy, making it easier for people to raise the red flag if they needed to. We hired a federal prosecutor as our County Counselor, revisited deals made by Stenger’s administration, and ended “no work” political appointments. We created a Financial Transparency report to make it easier for you to understand the budget, a 100 Day Report so you could see what we had accomplished in my first 100 days, and an annual report so you could see what we did in our first (almost) year. Every week I attend the County Council meetings, where I give a County Executive report to let people know what is going on in their government. And during our current COVID crisis, we’ve created a Transparency Portal that tracks every single dollar of CARES Act federal grant funding, so you can see where those federal dollars are being spent. We are livestreaming County Council meetings, I have live press briefings Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 8:30am, and every week our team sends out an email about what has happened the week before.
“Recently, I heard from someone who has been a County resident for 60+ years. He told me that he’s never seen this much effort to keep the people of the community informed. That’s what we like to hear, and that’s why we’ll continue sharing information across the County.”
What will you do about the county’s animal shelter?
Berry: “Animal control should remain the responsibility of St. Louis County (or your St. Louis County municipality when such services are provided), although domestic animals that are housed by St. Louis County that are designated available for adoption should be under the stewardship of a competent and dedicated nonprofit agency. As St. Louis County executive, I propose reestablishing St. Louis County animal shelter under the following operation procedures: (a) St. Louis County shall continue responsibility for maintaining facilities, utilities and food for adoptable animals, (b) St. Louis County shall enter into a contract with a University that provides veterinarian training to provide medical supervision and services on behalf of St. Louis County adoptable animals at no cost to St. Louis County and (c) St. Louis County shall enter into a contract with a well-qualified nonprofit agency to provide all other operational costs and staff required to house and facilitate the adoption of animals located at St. Louis County animal shelter.”
Page: “My dog, Midnight, is a rescue dog, as were all of the dogs that we’ve had. Like many County residents, I was more than angry when I read the audit of the County Animal Care and Control. My administration has had to clean up a lot of the mess left by former County Executive Steve Stenger. The Pet Adoption Center is one of those things. I committed early on to assure the humane treatment and care of all animals in the County Animal Care and Control shelter and as part of that I demanded an increase in the live release rate. When I took office the live release rate was 75 percent. Now it’s 96.7 percent – a 20 percent increase in less than a year. Another key finding of the audit related to the previous administration’s misuse of the owner surrender request for euthanasia. It was a disgusting finding, and we have since lowered it exponentially.
“What this all comes down to is treating beings with respect and dignity. Previously animals at the shelter averaged a stay of 60 days – and some had been there for a year. We’ve already reduced that average stay by half, to 30 days. We’ve also implemented special programs to increase enrichment and socialization opportunities for each animal, and to make sure they get the exercise they need. I believe in incorporating trap, neuter, return practices. I applaud the success of the leadership, staff, volunteers, and partner agencies. I will continue to assure that the County Pet Adoption Center is accountable and improves conditions, procedures and transparency of their operations.
“I want to note as well that the County Animal Care and Control team face unique challenges managing the humane care and treatment of animals during COVID-19. The staff and volunteers work diligently to adhere to social distancing requirements while assuring animals in our care are treated humanely and find forever homes. We could not do any of this without our dedicated volunteers and staff, and I’m grateful to them every day.”
Do you have plans to expand MetroLink? What will you do to improve MetroLink security?
Berry: “I will not support the expansion of the Metrolink system in St. Louis County (or anywhere else) until Metro can prove their ability to address crime and passenger safety associated with Metrolink transportation over an extended period of time.
“As St. Louis County executive, I seek to restructure MetroLink security operations, as follows: (a) Metro shall establish a law enforcement agency cross-designated and licensed by the States of Missouri and Illinois dedicated to the safety and security of all Metro passengers, staff and facilities, (b) Metro shall provide for all administration, training and supervision of all persons who provide law enforcement services to Metro system, (c) Metro law enforcement officers who patrol Metrolink trains and stations shall be comprised of active law enforcement officers seeking secondary (part-time) employment while continuing to work for their primary law enforcement agency (which will eliminate pension and health insurance costs of such Metro law enforcement officers patrolling Metrolink trains and stations), (d) Metro shall establish a detective bureau to investigate any crime against property or misdemeanour violations committed against any Metro system passenger or staff and (e) require Metro to enact my proposed Metro Safety First clause, which will require Metro to first fund my proposed Metro security plan before utilizing any St. Louis County tax dollars for any other purpose.”
Page: “We are reinvesting in safety on MetroLink. Last year, the County Council refinanced Bi-State’s bonds, which they believe may produce as much as $40 million in debt service savings which would allow them to fund additional security upgrades to improve safety. Bi-State and my administration are in constant communication.”
Should the county spend more or less on the Metro budget? What changes would you like to see, if any?
Berry: “I am absolutely against any increase of St. Louis County’s tax dollars committed to Metro operations. St. Louis County currently provides approximately 165 million dollars (or $165 per St. Louis County resident) of sales tax revenue per year towards Metro’s 298 million dollar yearly operations budget. The typical sales tax benefits generated by county jurisdictions investing in light rail service (such as Metro) are enjoyed by the City of St. Louis and their downtown attractions, not by St. Louis County taxpayers.
“As St. Louis County executive, I will seek a substantial restructuring of Metro operations in a manner that will provide more direct benefit to St. Louis County residents. I personally love public transportation, but St. Louis County can not continue to spend 165 million dollars per year to fund a failing transportation partnership. Mounting fiscal deficits Metro will face due to the loss of sales tax and ridership revenue due to COVID-19 presents the opportunity to reimagine Metro operations in St. Louis County.
“As St. Louis County executive, I will compel the restructuring of Metro operations by amending St. Louis County’s 165 million dollar sales tax commitment to Metro, as follows: (a) St. Louis County will cap our yearly sales tax investment towards Metro general budget at the set rate of $100 per St. Louis County resident per year (currently set at $165 per person, approximately 100 million dollars per year), (b) St. Louis County will purchase from Metro on a yearly basis 50,000 Metro system yearly passes, which shall be issued by St. Louis County with a focus on youth, senior and low income St. Louis County residents (proposed at cost of $500 per Metro rider, approximately 25 million dollars per year), (c) St. Louis County will require implementation of my proposed Metro security plan to receive any sales tax revenue from St. Louis County (35 million dollars dedicated towards Metro security per year), (d) identify employment centers in St. Louis County that can be more effectively covered by private multi-passenger rideshare from current Metrolink stations and (e) require Metro to produce a plan before St. Louis County to maximize the use of affordable private multi-passenger rideshare from current Metrolink and major bus stations to employment and residential destinations beginning January 2022.”
Page: “I would like to see no change in the spending on MetroLink, but I’d like to see more efficiencies. That’s why I think the new service being put forth by MetroLink is exciting. They have released a shared ride service app that can match multiple passengers who are headed in the same direction, allowing passengers to request rides that will take them to any location within the service area during operating hours. This is a 12-month pilot program that will be starting, in part, in Fenton and Valley Park. I encourage all readers of the Call to use it, and to let me know what they think.”
What do you think of new Chief Mary Barton? What did you think of former Chief Jon Belmar?
Berry: “I have had limited interaction with Mary Barton as police chief of St. Louis County, and as such, have not formed an opinion of Mary Barton’s overall performance as our new police chief. I did take note of Police Chief Mary Barton’s comments regarding general claims of racism against the St. Louis County Police Department. Simply stated, Police Chief Mary Barton took ‘the bait’ from the media and responded to such a question in a manner that unnecessarily became a nonproductive soundbite of the day. My aforementioned criticism of Chief Mary Barton is not her fault, any response to claims of racism against the St. Louis County Police Department should have been in conjunction with the office of St. Louis County executive.
“I want our St. Louis County police chief to focus on crime prevention, emergency preparedness and closure of criminal complaints filed by St. Louis County citizens. Nonspecific claims of racism made against the St. Louis County Police Department should not solely be placed on Chief Mary Barton’s shoulders, as St. Louis County executive I will “walk point” in front of our St. Louis County Police Department on addressing all issues related to race and St. Louis County government.
“I believe that Chief Jon Belmar did not have the flexibility to decrease the violent and property crime rate in St. Louis County. I found politics from both sides regulated Chief Belmar into an administrator and not the crime fighter I’ve known him to be. Yes, there is much I can point to that Chief Belmar did right for St. Louis County, although neither St. Louis County executive truly gave Chief Belmar the political cover necessary to do his job as Chief of Police in the way I thought he was capable of.”
Page: “As County Executive, I do not get to pick the chief. I do get to appoint members of the Police Board. I appointed four new members of the Board, creating a new majority. The Police Board appointed the new chief, Mary Barton, who is the first female police chief our County has ever had. I look forward to working with Chief Barton to build a culture of excellence within the department, and she knows I will tolerate nothing less. I don’t think she will either.
“Chief Barton has a hard job to do, as did Chief Belmar. My job is less to tell you what I “think” of each of them, and more to tell you what I will do to ensure you have the best possible police department. I support a thoughtfully trained police department that is well staffed, well paid, and accountable for its actions and interactions. I support community policing, and before President Obama challenged police departments to adopt his “8 Can’t Wait” policies, our force had already implemented them. St. Louis County, under my direction, has provided anti-bias training to our police officers. One of my staff, over three days, worked with over 250 officers, helping break down biases and teaching strategies to overcome them.
“We must acknowledge that systemic racism exists in the police department, as it does in all levels of government. It is in recognizing it that we can root it out and make needed, and overdue, change.”
What will you do to prevent any more deaths of jail inmates in the St. Louis County Justice Center?
Berry: “As a career bail bondsman, I understand the challenges facing our St. Louis County corrections system and our constitutional responsibility to provide for the health and welfare of all persons under St. Louis County’s custody. Our St. Louis County Justice Center corrections officers were utilized as a “scapegoat” to explain the increase in deaths of St. Louis County prisoners. St. Louis County Justice Center was placed in the hands of an inexperienced criminal justice operator, and as a direct result St. Louis County failed to provide a corrections system capable of addressing the health concerns of our St. Louis County Justice Center inmates.
“For the most part, St. Louis County Justice Center evaluates the health of its jail prisoners by requesting information from the inmate based upon a health questionnaire. The additional component I will institute at our St. Louis County Justice Center is the opportunity to participate in an independent physical examination conducted by St. Louis County Department of Health. The proposed medical physicals provided by St. Louis County Department of Health would be offered on a voluntary basis and the results of such physical examination shall be considered a medical record protected by the normal course of doctor/patient confidentiality. Providing voluntary medical physicals to St. Louis County Justice Center inmates will establish a more efficient system to address the medical needs of our inmates, decrease the sexual transmission infection rates in St. Louis County and identify mental health or substance abuse issues affecting our St. Louis County inmates. Providing for the St. Louis County Department of Health to conduct voluntary medical physicals of our St. Louis County inmates will increase the overall health of both our St. Louis County inmate and general population.”
Page: “Improving the Justice Center has been one of my first priorities, and there is a lot to improve. We believe everyone should be treated with dignity, which is why we want a jail that doesn’t look the other way when inmates are sick. No one should die on our watch. We are overhauling practices and procedures to make sure that happens.
“We are reducing unnecessary incarceration, and have installed cameras in the jail infirmary to help ensure that adequate medical care is provided to inmates who need it. All of the justice center policies are now online, and I encourage anyone who is interested in this topic to read those and provide feedback.
“We stopped the practice of shackling pregnant people in our jails and started providing period products so people didn’t have to make their own. I appointed a civilian board last year to advise officials at the jail and the County Council is actively investigating the inmate meals contract that is currently up for bid.
“We have met with leaders of the ACLU and the MacArthur Justice Center to get their input on improvements, upgraded the technology at the justice center, expanded the library program, and started a new drug and alcohol program.
All of these things improve the Justice Center, and improve the outcomes of those who are in it.”
Should Proposition P sales-tax funds be used as outlined at the time of passage by then-Police Chief Jon Belmar?
Berry: “I envision Proposition P funds (St. Louis County’s dedicated sales tax towards law enforcement expenses) to only be utilized towards funding the base salaries of county and municipal law enforcement officers in St. Louis County.”
Page: “In 2017, voters approved Proposition P to pay for police raises, body cameras, and public safety needs. I still believe we should be spending the money on that. There is over $18m of funds in reserve. We are balancing revenue of Prop P sales tax with expenditures. In 2020, our goal is to keep those funds balanced.
“I don’t think we should defund public safety, and I don’t think we should use Prop P money for something besides what the voters voted for.
“I do think we should have a serious conversation about what is the role, responsibility, and duty of a police officer and whether some of those duties could be accomplished by someone else, whether it’s a social worker or a nurse or some sort of community volunteer. Sometimes the best person to show up to a crisis is not a person with a gun. The evolution of the job description of a police officer has changed greatly in the past decade and there are a lot of challenges in our community related to substance abuse and mental health. Unfortunately, programs addressing those important issues have been unfunded or underfunded by state and local government for a long time, and that has impacted public safety. It’s made the job of a police officer much more difficult.”
What will you do to oversee spending from Proposition P?
Berry: “As St. Louis County executive, I seek to limit use of Prop P funds to the payment of St. Louis County and municipal law enforcement officer salaries, as follows: (a) 50 percent of Prop P funds disbursed to St. Louis County and municipal law enforcement agencies based upon the resident population such law enforcement entities provide police services on behalf of, (b) 20 percent of Prop P funds dedicated solely towards emergency law enforcement services associated with disaster, pandemic or civil unrest, including the reserve of such funds by St. Louis County for the same purpose, (c) 15 percent of Prop P funds provided to St. Louis County Police Department for the sole purpose of payment of police officer salaries who are dedicated to investigate and/or apprehend murder, organized crime, crimes aganist persons, sex crimes and terrorism suspects, including the location of missing persons and (d) 15 percent of Prop P funds provided to St. Louis County Police Department to establish a law enforcement mental health officer designation program which shall recruit and pay an additional salary stipend to St. Louis County and municipal law enforcement officers who have achieved both education and training in identifying, assessing and defusing situations involving persons who may have a mental issue or domestic violence situations.”
Page: “I am working with the St. Louis County Council to make sure that we keep Prop P funds balanced. This is at the forefront of all of our minds right now, and it is a group effort.”
What is your opinion of the performance of county Auditor Mark Tucker?
Berry: “As a one million citizen jurisdiction, St. Louis County absolutely requires an internal auditor to perform periodic audits of each St. Louis County department and tax dollar spent. I refrain from stating my opinion of St. Louis County Auditor Mark Tucker because it is unclear what independent authority Mr. Tucker has to perform audits of St. Louis County operations. As St. Louis County executive, I plan to restructure the entire operations structure of the St. Louis County auditor’s office, to which will be founded with transparency protocols and qualified nonpartisan personnel.”
Page: “The County Council hires the auditor. Auditor Mark Tucker received the votes of all but one County Councilmembers when he was appointed to the position. Mr. Tucker helped to expose former County Executive Stenger’s fraud, and before that had been subject to a great deal of criticism by Stenger. That is why it surprises me that my opponents are choosing to attack him. All of the audits done by Mark Tucker can be found on the auditor’s website, including some of the audits that expose the mismanagement in the Stenger administration. https://www.stlouisco.com/Your-Government/County-Auditor.”
What are your thoughts on the St. Louis County police? Should the SLCPD be defunded?
Berry: “I am unequivocally against defunding the St. Louis County Police Department. The level of violent crime in St. Louis County coupled with a loss of sales tax revenue due to COVID-19 makes any budgetary cuts to our St. Louis County Police Department absolutely out of the question in the near future.
“I truly believe St. Louis County Police Department can ascend to become the top law enforcement jurisdiction in the nation and can serve as the premier model on how our Great Nation provides local law enforcement. This will require all parts of our community to build a mutual respect for each other, which will require accountability, competent law enforcement personnel, transparency and community support. As St. Louis County Executive, I will bridge the communication gap between St. Louis County communities with high crime rates and St. Louis County police officers.”
Page: “I don’t think we should zero out our police budgets, and I don’t know anyone who thinks that’s a safe or responsible thing to do. I support a thoughtfully trained police department that is well staffed, well paid, and accountable for its actions and interactions. But it’s also true that today we expect things from our police officers that we didn’t expect of them decades ago. As you know, there are many challenges in our community, like substance abuse and mental health, that could be better managed – but programs that address those challenges have been unfunded or underfunded by state and local government for a long time. That has impacted public safety, and it’s made the job of a police officer much more difficult. We can’t ignore what we have forced these officers to manage, and I think we should have a serious conversation about what is the role, responsibility, and duty of a police officer and whether some of those duties could be accomplished by someone else, whether it’s a social worker, nurse, or some sort of community volunteer.
“We must also recognize the drastically different experiences that our public safety system provides our residents. I support community policing, where officers and the community have a more collaborative relationship. And well before President Obama challenged police departments to adopt his “8 Can’t Wait” policies, our force had already implemented them. St. Louis County, under my direction, has provided anti-bias training to our police officers. One of my staff, over three days, worked with over 250 officers, helping break down biases and teaching strategies to overcome them.
“Systemic racism exists in the police department. It exists in all levels of government just as it exists in all levels of society. We must recognize that, and use that knowledge to make changes. I do not believe that 100 officers should be cut.
“St. Louis County’s police department must lead by example, and so must the County government. My administration has officially recognized the Ethical Society of Police, and I have appointed four outstanding county residents to create a new majority on the Police Board. This board has appointed a new chief, Mary Barton, the first female police chief our County has ever had. I look forward to working with Chief Barton to build a culture of excellence within the department. I am sure that municipal police departments are reviewing their policies and procedures as well. Change might not happen overnight, but it must happen.”
What is the biggest issue facing St. Louis County today? What will you do to fix it?
Berry: “Economic development. Addressing fallout from COVID-19 crisis, increase in crime and racial tensions in St. Louis County all have one common denominator, stagnated business development growth in St. Louis County. My St. Louis County First public policy platform will create substantial economic development in St. Louis County.”
Page: “St. Louis County has many challenges. Those challenges have been magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Protecting St. Louis Countians during the COVID-19 pandemic, and addressing health disparities due to economic status, race and zip code is one of our biggest issues. We know building healthy communities requires more than putting up a doctor’s office. Building a healthy community requires addressing all of the aspects of life that impact health – the “social determinants” of health. Social determinants of health are things like systemic racism, housing status, income, access to paid sick and family leave, educational opportunities, the ability to afford healthcare, job opportunities, access to transit… I could go on and on. To improve health outcomes, we have to improve outcomes in those social determinants, which also affect public safety, the economy, and our ability to attract people to our region. This is where we must spend our attention.
So as we talk about responding to a once-in-a-generation pandemic, we’re also talking about tackling these significant societal barriers to people’s success and health.
That means addressing access to opportunities for good-paying jobs, education, healthcare, healthy food and transit (among many other things) but it also means tackling systemic racism head-on.
Systemic racism is the fundamental flaw that has historically held St. Louis County and its people back. It’s such a significant issue and such a difficult problem that most politicians won’t touch it, let alone talk about it. I’ve been talking about it, and working to eradicate it, since day one. As County Executive, I’ve insisted that all policy decisions be made through a lens of equity, and that diverse voices are at the table when we make decisions. I’m proud of the progress we’ve made, but we are just getting started.
My commitment is to do all I can to change the course of this County, to make it a place where there is justice and equal opportunity for everyone, regardless of your zip code, your race, your gender, or your job. But I can’t do it alone. Government can’t do it alone. I’m calling on corporate leaders, faith-based groups, community clubs, schools and each of us as neighbors to be all-in when it comes to change in our communities.
There are many challenges that we face as a community right now. But I’m confident that St. Louis County, and the people who call it home, have the resolve, the.” (i don’t think he finished his thought here lol)
What are your thoughts on how the current County Council is operating? Should the council have taken more control over coronavirus funds?
Berry: “Any county council, by definition, is a body of citizens who each represent a subset of such county. Any group of people, whether a county council or a Church picnic planning committee, will have disagreements and dissension amongst the ranks. Unfortunately, the level of utter disrespect by and between some St. Louis County Councilmembers have reached and all time low. As your next St. Louis County executive, I will have veto power over future St. Louis County Council legislation and I will utilize such veto power to force our St. Louis County Councilmembers to work with each other to create the best laws possible for St. Louis County Citizens. As a republican, the veto power I wield as St. Louis County executive will extinguish partisan bullying that has plagued our current St. Louis County Council process.
“As relates to our St. Louis County Council approving appropriation of 174 million dollars of COVID-19 relief funds from the Federal Care Act to be distributed solely at the discretion of our St. Louis County Executive is one step above being criminal, exploits the COVID-19 shutdown to hijack your Citizen vote on how such funds are used and the use of such COVID-19 relief funds have been poorly managed by St. Louis County. Republicans representing the State of Missouri in Jefferson City and the Democrat leadership of the City of St. Louis were both able to appropriate COVID-19 relief funds without giving sole discretion of how such funds would be spent to the elected Executive of such jurisdictions (Missouri Governor and the Mayor of the St. Louis). Stupid is what stupid does, any St. Louis County Councilmember who supported giving any St. Louis County Executive a 174 million dollar checkbook with zero checks and balances should resign for surrendering the duties pursuant to our St. Louis County Charter and the voters of their respective St. Louis County Council district.”
Page: “The County Council voted to give my administration oversight of the CARES Act funds. In an interview with St. Louis Public Radio, a Councilwoman said that they made this decision in order to make sure the funds could be spent quickly, knowing that gridlock on the Council could slow down much needed services and support.
“We received $173 million in federal grants through the CARES Act. As with any grant, the CARES Act grant funds come with very specific directions on how they can be used. They must be used on COVID-related expenses.They cannot be used to meet any budget shortfall and must be spent by the end of this year or the remaining funds are forfeited. Spending these grant funds efficiently, effectively, and equitably is important so the County budget – and the taxpayers – don’t have to absorb COVID-related costs that would otherwise be covered by these grants.
“I do not believe in unchecked power, and I do think that it is important that the taxpayers know how we are spending this money. We answered this in four ways: The CARES Act Oversight Committee, the Transparency Portal, a participatory budgeting process for $7m of the funds, and an Economic Rescue Team that helps us decide how to spend funding. The Oversight Committee, led by County Councilwoman Kelli Dunaway, has helped guide the spending decisions, including the decision to spend $5m of the grant funds on childcare. The Transparency Portal allows you to see how every dollar of funding is being spent. The participatory budgeting process gives residents of St. Louis County direct input into how $7m of the funds are spent. The Economic Rescue Team is made up of business leaders, labor leaders, and the Heartland St. Louis Black Chamber of Commerce. The Team includes South County residents. We are determined to make the best possible decisions with the Relief funds, and there are a lot of very smart, very capable people helping to make sure that happens. I encourage people to give their feedback and ideas on how this money is spent. When those ideas are good ones – like Lisa Clancy and Kelli Dunaway’s push for childcare funding – we listen and act. This administration believes in checks and balances and in working together.”
What would you implement to prevent corruption and fake contracts on the level of former County Executive Steve Stenger?
Berry: “As St. Louis County Executive, the way you prevent corruption and fake contracts is not to engage in corruption or authorize fake contracts. In addition to increasing transparency of St. Louis County Executive operations, communication and community input from St. Louis County residents are the best way to rebuild the trust between St. Louis County and her Citizens. The reason that Steve Stenger was able to engage in uncheck corruption is those who were aware of such corruption had not process to report Mr. Stenger’s conduct. I am in favor of whistleblower protections for St. Louis County employees who report corruption and fraud to the state of Missouri.”
Page: “I became County Executive when Steve Stenger resigned and went to prison. I vividly remember taking down the party lights from the office walls. I led the charge on bringing his corruption to light while my opponents were largely silent, and I have been focusing the County government on making fair and equitable decisions for all residents rather than rewarding political donors. We hired a federal prosecutor as our County Counselor and revisited deals made by Stenger’s administration. My administration relinquished unilateral control of the Port Authority and appointed a group of business leaders to oversee the Economic Development Partnership. We requested an audit of County Government and I have been giving weekly reports to the public. We are also livestreaming County Council meetings. My office released an annual report earlier this year, and in it, you can read about all things we have done to root out and prevent corruption and to be more transparent.”
Are you satisfied with the county’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
Berry: “Absolutely not. The core issue with St. Louis County’s response to COVID-19 is St. Louis County operated in a reactive manner and not proactive. St. Louis County sat around waiting on our Governor and President to figure out PPE acquisition and other critical needs of St. Louis County residents, instead of St. Louis County being competitive and scoring the supplies St. Louis County needed ourselves. St. Louis County chose to shut down the entire County, instead of focusing stay-at-home orders to protect vulnerable Seniors and persons with specific health issues. St. Louis County residents who are otherwise healthy and personally wished to keep our economy going should have been provided the opportunity to continue working with policies established by St. Louis County to keep them safe”
Page: “I am one of those people who is never satisfied. I always believe that I can do better, and every day, I ask myself how I can do that the next day. Your health is still our first priority, as it has been since St. Louis County issued stay-at-home orders earlier than almost everywhere else in the country. We base decisions on medical data from doctors and public health experts. We are spending federal grant funds equitably, allocating over $10M for homelessness prevention, $5M for childcare providers, and $2M for organizations tackling food insecurity. Our High Risk Task Force, a program addressing COVID in nursing homes, is so effective and innovative it’s considered a model program for the country. We are slowly reopening, watching the results, and are being thoughtful, deliberate, and responsive to data and constituents. We strive to improve every day, and aren’t satisfied unless we do.”
Should the county tax rate be raised?
Page: “No, I do not believe the County property tax rate should be raised.”
How will you change how county government operates based on the state audit findings?
Page: “During my brief time as County Executive, we’ve been changing how a lot of things operate. We have started to clean up the mess left by Stenger, but the audit highlights how much more work there is to do. We must become more efficient, more effective, and more transparent in every aspect of government. When I became County Executive, one of the first things I did was make sure that we had an up to date whistleblower policy. We need to encourage people to speak out when there are issues so that we can fix them.”
Does, and should, the county executive control the police board?
Page: “The County Executive appoints the members of the police board. I believe that practice should remain the same. Each appointee should be chosen based on his, her, or their merits and should have the trust of the County Executive. That said, I do not believe the County Executive should control any appointee. We have had a County Executive who felt differently, and he is now in federal prison.”
Would you support a new countywide sales tax supporting early-childhood education, or any other purpose?
Page: “There is no longer an early childhood education proposal on the table in St. Louis County. I am an advocate for early childhood education. When here is another proposal, I will study it carefully.”
Are county sales taxes too high?
Page: “The current St. Louis County sales tax rate is 2.263 percent on top of the Missouri sales tax rate of 4.225 percent. Some municipalities in St. Louis County charge additional sales tax. This is a relatively normal sales tax rate for regions like ours and I do not believe it is exorbitant. The most important thing, though, is that we use tax dollars responsibly and to improve our County and the services offered by it.”
Should the county fund education?
Page: “Most funds for education come from the state. We have a state government that has consistently defunded education. I believe the County Executive and all County residents should be pushing their representatives in Jefferson City to fully fund education. Right now, we are using CARES Act money to support virtual learning and school districts across the County. In this time of crisis, I do believe it is the County’s job to fill gaps left over from our state.”