Community Interest

Letter to the Editor in Opposition of Proposed Change to County Charter

Letter to the Editor in Opposition of Proposed Change to County Charter

By Greg Modlish
EDITOR'S NOTE:  01/12/22 - County Executive Steve Ehlmann has withdrawn Bill 5030. In a letter of apology to the County Council, Ehlmann stated, "After we have worked on the language, considered the alternative approaches, seen the results of the election in St.  Louis County and heard more from our constituents, if two councilmen, rather than me, want to reintroduce something they can do so far ahead of the election day so all may have plenty opportunities to comment."

Click to read:  County Executive Steve Ehlmann Withdraws Bill 5030 Proposing Charter Amendment

On Monday night, December 20, 2021, I attended the St. Charles County Council meeting. Here’s some background.

On Thursday, December 16, 2021, Steve Ehlman, current St. Charles County Executive, sent Mike Elam, Council Chair, Bill 5030 for introduction during the December 20 Council meeting. Mr. Elam was not anticipating this bill, nor were any other Council members aware of this bill before seeing it on the agenda on Friday the 17th. Bills requested by the County Executive are normally sponsored by the Council Chair, so Mr. Elam was simply following standard procedure. The bill and its full text was included in the agenda for the meeting only two days later.

The full text of Bill 5030, which can be found here, https://www.sccmo.org/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Item/10435?fileID=31143  seeks to place a proposed amendment to the County Charter on the April 5, 2022, general election ballot. The Charter of a county is the Constitution of a county. It is the foundational document of how county laws are made, enforced, and how the county is run for the benefit of its residents. Article III, Section 3.2 covers Eligibility to be the County Executive and includes things you would expect to see there: minimum age, being a registered voter of the county, etc. Paragraph 3.204 places parameters on what political and business ventures the County Executive can or cannot be involved with. For the most part, these seem quite reasonable where there would be an obvious conflict of interest.

And then we get to the proposed change. As you can see in the text below, the only change proposed to Article III of the County Charter is in subparagraph 3.204.2, striking the language “during normal business hours of St. Charles County.”

3.204.2. 

At any time while serving in office carry on any trade, occupation, business or enterprise for personal pecuniary profit or gain [during the normal business hours of St. Charles County]; or

Pecuniary – means money or monetary matters or that which can be valued in money. www.lawinsider.com

Here is my concern with that: It only serves to limit highly qualified challengers who might own a farm, or rental houses, or medical practice, or other small businesses when there is no evidence they cannot fulfill their County Executive obligations while maintaining involvement in their family business. You want a job done? Give it to a busy person!

I attended the December 20 meeting where 8 citizens spoke out against this bill, including State Senator Dr. Bob Onder and State Rep Tony Lovasco. Every single one saw this as nothing more than a limitation on competition for the County Executive position.

I believe that subparagraph 3.204.4 clearly provides a remedy for County Executives double-dealing or shirking their duties in favor of other ventures, so why legislate for a problem we don’t have?

Mr. Ehlman’s explanation for this bill was fumbled and weak, and I couldn’t believe he even trotted it out there. You can watch the video of the meeting here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_8TZL685FE0. Public comment begins at about 32 minutes and Mr. Ehlman’s comments at about 59:45. I strongly encourage you to watch this and decide for yourselves. The only thing I got from his super lame attempt at selling the room on this bill that is clearly designed to protect him from any real challenge in 2022 was that perhaps he is no longer up to the job.

The ballot measure itself is sneakily worded and omits any context and doesn’t offer any explanation for the change beyond a vague reference to multiple other county executives while he can only cite one. Uninformed voters will likely look at this and think it makes sense, which is what he wants. In reality, it only serves to keep him in office.

Councilman Joe Brazil from District 2, offered that this ballot measure would cost around $150,000 to be included in the April general election. Perhaps Mr. Ehlman would be willing to pay for it?

Mr. Ehlman, you’ve had a hell of a run, but maybe it’s time, at the age of 71, to step away, let a new generation of leadership take over, and go enjoy retirement before any more of these sketchy looking, government first political maneuvers paint an ugly stain on what has been a fine career of service to St. Charles County residents.

The actual vote on this bill will be on January 10, 2022, at 7 PM at the County Council Chambers at 100 N. 3rd Street in St. Charles. The public entrance is around the back. You should be there.