Tags: Election, St. Louis County News
July 30, 2014 - Two candidates are challenging incumbent Charlie Dooley in next week's Democratic primary for the county executive's post.
In Tuesday's primary, Affton residents Ron Levy and 6th District County Councilman Steve Stenger are looking to unseat Dooley, who has served as county executive since October 2003.
Asked to identify the most important issue in the race, the candidates responded:
• "Getting people back to work," Dooley said.
• "... Abolish unequal school property taxes," Levy said, noting school district tax rates range from $3.10 per $100 of assessed valuation in the Ladue School District to $6.28 per $100 in the Hazelwood School District.
• "Restoring accountability and public confidence. As a certified public accountant for 20 years, I know how to be fiscally responsible without balancing the budget on the backs of working families. As county executive, I will conduct a full audit of county government to root out wasteful spending and ensure our tax dollars are being invested wisely — focusing on priorities like public safety, education and other after school programs, senior assistance, as well as job creation and economic development," Stenger said.
Dooley, 66, 4408 Mathew St., Northwoods, is retired from Boeing, formerly McDonnell-Douglas. He and his wife, Sandra, have a grown daughter.
Dooley was elected mayor of Northwoods in 1983 after serving five years as an alderman. He was elected in 1994 as the 1st District's councilman and served in that post until the County Council voted unanimously to appoint him county executive after the October 2003 death of County Executive George R. "Buzz" Westfall.
Dooley was elected to serve the remaining two years of Westfall's term in November 2004 and was elected to full four-year terms as county executive in November 2006 and November 2010.
He said he is seeking his party's nomination to "continue the work we have started."
Levy, 85, 4635 Candace Drive, 63123, is a retired typographer with two grown daughters. He served on the Bayless school board from 2003 to 2004 and unsuccessfully sought the 96th District Missouri House seat in 2002 and 2004 as a Libertarian. He also unsuccessfully sought the 96th District House seat in 2006 and 2008 as a Republican. In 2010, he was defeated by Dooley for the Democratic nomination for the county executive's post.
In seeking the Democratic nomination, Levy said his goal is "for a better St. Louis County to live in."
Stenger, 42, 9322 Rambler Drive, 63123, is an attorney and certified public accountant at Klar, Izsak & Stenger LLC. He and his wife, Allison, have a young daughter.
Stenger, who served as prosecuting attorney for Cottleville from 2005 to 2008, was elected to the County Council in November 2008 and re-elected in November 2012.
He is seeking his party's nomination because "as a lifelong area resident, I am committed to making our county the best place to live, work and raise a family, a place in which we take pride. My work as a CPA can help put county finances in order and provide budget accountability so taxpayers know where their dollars are spent, stopping unnecessary increases in property taxes, and auditing all St. Louis County accounts and programs. I also place great importance on providing a safe place to live for our county residents."
The candidates gave the following responses to a Call questionnaire:
Do you agree with the County Council's 2001 decision to change its meetings to the evening from the afternoon?
Dooley said, "Yes, I support the evening County Council meeting time because I believe it offers a better opportunity for more citizens to attend the Council meetings and stay involved in their local government. We are also fortunate to have these meetings available for broadcast through Channel 20 — www.gtntv.com — to maximize public awareness of the County Council's activities."
Levy said, "Yes."
Stenger said, "Yes. During the more than five years I have served on the council, I can tell you that many issues have brought easily thousands out to be heard."
Do you agree with the direction the county is moving?
Dooley said, "I think St. Louis County is moving in the right direction, especially in light of the economic recession that we have just endured. Our population is holding steady at approximately 1 million residents, and job growth is coming back. The unemployment rate has dropped to 6.4 percent and crime is at a 43-year low."
Levy said, "No. There is no direction to incorporate with the city."
Stenger said, "I believe much needs to be done to restore public confidence in county government."
Do you support the county's trash-district program? Could its implementation have been handled better?
Dooley said, "Yes, I support St. Louis County's trash district program because it has provided a superior quality of service, including recycling, for less cost for county residents. Any dismantling of this program at this point would take away the very popular recycling program, which municipal residents benefit from as well."
Levy said, "Yes. It is good to have one hauler on my street, but it is also bad to have a hauler not locally owned. I believe we should have no out-of-state haulers come in and profit from hauling."
Stenger said, "I have been critical of the county's trash-district program from its beginning prior to my service on the council. I count myself among the many who are disappointed why this whole matter wasn't better handled. Legal challenges and losses by the county have been costly, and I believe they could have and should have been avoided."
Do you believe the St. Louis County Library Board of Directors properly handled the relocation of the Tesson Ferry Branch County Library? Do you believe the board properly addressed residents' concerns?
Dooley said, "I understand that some residents are unhappy with the relocation of south county's library to a new site on Gravois at Musick Road. But I do believe that the St. Louis County Library Board acted in the best interests of citizens in coming up with a plan to have new and improved library facilities for both south and north county.
"The St. Louis County Library Board heard many of the citizen concerns not during the public process, but afterward."
Levy said, "No. It's a bad way to use public funds. The new location is in the middle of nowhere."
Stenger said, "No and no. I am a person who believes that the public itself feels let down, which is the best sign a problem exists. The board acted without consultation with the council and is at odds with the public."
Do you believe the St. Louis County Planning Commission is responsive to residents? How long should appointees serve on the Planning Commission?
Dooley said, "I believe that the Planning Commission strives to inform residents and business owners near proposed development sites of zoning changes to the best of its abilities through our website, mailings and sign postings.
"I also believe that there is always room for improvement in our processes, and we have recently made changes to our notification procedures to address citizen concerns. As with any decision-making body, there may be some residents who are unhappy with the actions of the Planning Commission, but that does not mean that the Commission is not listening to residents' concerns. The St. Louis County Council ultimately makes the decision in all rezoning cases, and it is incumbent upon the council members to engage their citizens in all matters in which they represent them.
"Of our current Planning Commission members, three members were appointed in 2010 or later, and two were appointed in the 1990s. I believe that there is value in both having newer members who offer fresh perspectives and more senior members who understand the history of development decisions in the county."
Levy said, "The Planning Commission should be elected, not appointed, and serve the same as council members' terms."
Stenger said, "The Planning Commission needs to be more responsive to residents and particularly should provide public notice to residents that is clearer and more open and obvious. Papers of more regular circulation and local circulation should be used for notice rather than papers of limited circulation that few residents read. Planning commissioner service should be limited in duration to a maximum of six years."
What is your position on tax-increment financing and other tax tools?
Doole said, "Tax-increment financing — TIF — and other redevelopment mechanisms can be useful tools in fighting blighted conditions and promoting reinvestment in our community. The majority of TIF projects in St. Louis County in the past occurred in the inner-ring area, and it is important to reinvest in our older communities in order to prevent abandonment and continued urban sprawl.
"In recent years, however, St. Louis County has not supported the continued use of TIF for big-box retail developments that simply shift sales from one location to another."
Levy said, "Tax-increment financing should be abolished."
Stenger said, "I believe TIFs should only be used in very limited circumstances and very sparingly. In addition, we must keep tax rates low and property taxes in check so that we don't over tax residents and lose county residents to surrounding areas."
What measures, if any, will you propose to encourage economic development in St. Louis County?
Dooley said, "We have had tremendous success this year in attracting new businesses and business expansions in St. Louis County. Examples include major new facilities for Monsanto, Reinsurance Group of America, Express Scripts and KWS, a German seed company that selected St. Louis as its new location in the U.S.
"These projects and many others are providing thousands of new jobs for our region. I have worked to create the new St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, which is a joint economic development entity with the city of St. Louis. Our team of economic development specialists combined with the City team has created an economic growth team that is second to none. We want to make St. Louis County attractive to the millennial generation so that we can retain and attract new talent."
Levy said, "Abolish reassessment and unequal school property taxes. They are ruining businesses, homeowners and economic development."
Stenger said, "The county executive must be active in attracting new businesses to our county. This means targeting businesses outside of our region and bringing them to St. Louis County.
"We must work to maintain and retain the businesses that we currently have. We must also educate and train our work force so that their skills are aligned with the attracted businesses."
What will you do to encourage the expansion of MetroLink to south county? What sort timetable and funding would you propose?
Dooley said, "East-West Gateway is the metropolitan planning organization for the St. Louis region, and the East-West Gateway board on which I sit makes long-range transportation plans for the region. The current long-range plan, called Regional Transportation Plan 2040, includes a MetroLink extension to Butler Hill Road on its list of "Illustrative Projects." These are projects that have been generally studied in the past, but which have no current plan or funding source.
"The St. Louis County Council has passed an ordinance stating that future MetroLink expansions can only be done if federal monies are included. The Federal Transit Administration would have to approve any MetroLink expansion plan to south county, and such a project would have to compete nationally with other transit projects in order to receive funding. Given these facts, it is not possible to accurately predict when MetroLink funding for south county could become available."
Levy said, "Metro should be trolley buses, not costly tracks to move on with trains, and easier to fund with possibly a bond issue."
Stenger said, "I'll continue to advocate for approaches that provide benefit to all of St. Louis County. As the County Council representative for south county, I spoke out for a more inclusive approach to expansion back in 2009. Federal and state money matches and grants are essential to any successful expansion of MetroLink."
Do you support the recent changes to the notification process now in place for public hearings conducted by the Planning Commission?
Dooley said, " Yes. Our goal is always to be as open and transparent as possible in regard to rezoning and development proposals. I encourage all interested citizens to sign up for public hearing notices through our website at: http://www.stlouisco.com/YourGovernment/CountyDepartments/Planning.aspx.
"It's a great service that more people should know about."
Levy said, "Yes, as long as it's noted in the Post-Dispatch for those who are interested."
Stenger said, "Given the issues surrounding the National Church Residences senior apartment complex, I sponsored the resolution that initiated the process for making needed changes to the county-administration's notification system.
"I endorse all being done at the public's request to reach residents and businesses that are in any way affected by governmental projects or approvals. What I found most archaic was the county's failure to better utilize other media sources available to residents through both local publications and public-service announcements, as well as by social media and visible signage."
Do you believe Oakville residents received timely notification of proposed zoning and variance changes that permitted the construction of the National Church Residences' senior apartment complex on Telegraph Road?
Dooley said, "While the Planning Commission followed its normal procedures for notifying residents of the rezoning for the NCR (National Church Residences) project in Oakville, it is clear from public input that a large number of residents did not feel adequately informed about the nature of the project. That is the reason that I support the notification changes that have been enacted during the past year."
Levy said, "I haven't taken the time to look at this location."
Stenger said, "No, I do not. The town-hall meeting I held on the matter brought out hundreds of residents who made clear they did not receive notification from the executive branch of county government."
An organization called Better Together is currently studying methods of how St. Louis County and St. Louis City could better cooperate. Do you support this effort?
Dooley said, "I support the analysis that Better Together is undertaking to have an improved understanding of how our region spends tax dollars to receive government services. If there are ways that we can save money by cooperating without reducing the quality of services for our region, then I support such improvements. Every citizen in our region deserves a basic level of good, quality services from the governments to which they pay taxes."
Levy said, "Yes."
Stenger said, "I wouldn't pick any one group over another. I appreciate the dialogue all concerned residents are engaging in to make sure public discourse is not limited to any one group. I also appreciate members of the news media raising the question and issues for their readers, viewers and listeners to consider."
Would you support a reunification — or merger — of St. Louis County and St. Louis City? Please be specific.
Dooley said, "I am not seeking a merger of St. Louis County and the city of St. Louis. But the state Constitution does provide mechanisms for the voters to decide whether or not they wish to reorganize St. Louis County and its relationship with the city.
"These options include the city re-entering the county as an additional municipality, as well as merger or partial merger. Neither the county nor the city can decide on its own to change their governmental structure; only the voters can make that decision. What I do care about is providing the highest quality of government service delivery, regardless of the number of municipalities or counties involved."
Levy said, "I would support: 1) Combine all police stations in St. Louis city and county into one district. 2) Combine all fire districts into one district. 3) Combine Metro and school buses into one service for all in St. Louis city and county."
Stenger said, "I wouldn't want any issue as important as this to be decided by any one person. I would insist that St. Louis County residents be given the right to vote on this very important issue."
Is St. Louis County doing enough to encourage diversity? What have and what will you do to encourage diversity?
Dooley said, "I am working to encourage diversity in not just St. Louis County government, but in our community at large through a two-fold effort. I have established a director of diversity position to assist St. Louis County government in making sure that women and minority-owned businesses have a fair shot at participating in county business. And I have worked for the past year with (St. Louis) Mayor (Francis) Slay on the Mosaic Project, which aims to increase international diversity in our community and to make St. Louis a more welcoming and inclusive place for immigrants. I believe that both of these efforts are important to the future health of our region and to grow our population.
"St. Louis County has a Human Relations Commission that now includes a representative of the LGBT community, and our Department of Human Services has a veterans services specialist to reach out to the veterans in St. Louis County."
Levy did not respond to the question.
Stenger said, "I haven't shied away from casting key votes ensuring diversity legislation, but I must tell you that many issues being raised now seem to be much more overtly political than substantive."
A group of residents currently is researching options of incorporation, annexation or forming a new county for the Oakville area. Are you supportive of this group's efforts?
Dooley said, "I support citizens' rights to determine their own political future, and I am not opposed to incorporation or annexation efforts towards new or larger municipalities. It is up to the citizens to decide what level of government best suits them on a local level.
"St. Louis County remains willing and able to provide services to any area that wishes to remain unincorporated, and the county is an efficient and effective provider of local government services. The St. Louis County Boundary Commission exists to make sure that proposals are well planned and address the host of structural and financial concerns that come with creating a new level of government. The only proposal that I would oppose is breaking up St. Louis County into smaller, separate counties."
Levy said, "No. They should work to unincorporate the 92 municipalities. I live in Affton, (which) has been unincorporated and is doing fine."
Stenger said, "I support their research and would like to give residents a better reason to stay in St. Louis County. We have to respect the rights of people to organize their government, but I am hopeful inspired leadership can work together and efforts can focus on improvements and not separation."
Construction of the National Church Residences senior apartment complex in Oakville is nearly complete. Do you support this project?
Dooley said, "I support new housing options for elderly residents in south county. St. Louis County's strategic plan calls for housing options that will allow local residents to age in place in their existing communities, and I believe that senior living facilities permit that to happen. I ultimately did not challenge the County Council's decision to support this project, which they approved unanimously."
Levy said, "If it is involving money for residents to pay for their apartment, then this should be a tax-paid operation to the county."
Stenger said, "I recognize and support the need for senior housing as many of our residents by necessity require it. The National Church Residences is one such development.
"I, along with unanimous support of the council, upon unanimous support of the Planning Commission, initially approved the project not knowing nearby residents and businesses had not been notified of the project's existence. Although beyond the merits of any project, clearly the public's right to know and participate is not only important, but paramount.