Westfall's successor,Charlie Dooley, pledges to do 'very best' he can
The County Council last week attempted to fill the shoes of the late County Executive George R. "Buzz" Westfall and unanimously appointed Charlie Dooley, D-north county, as Westfall's successor and to serve out the rest of his term until November 2004.
"It's time to fill the shoes of Buzz Westfall — I can't do that. I'm just going to simply say that I can't do that. But what I will say to the county is that I will do the very best that I can," Dooley told councilmen Nov. 3.
Dooley is the first black county executive in county history.
Councilman Kelly Burkett, D-north county, made the motion to nominate Dooley for the county executive's post.
"This is a sad evening and I had to bring my Kleenex with me because I knew I'd be shedding some tears, but at the same time St. Louis County needs to go forward," Burkett said.
"Sometimes we have to deal with life on life's terms and under those circumstances it's necessary for us to have a new county executive. And I have been a friend of Charlie Dooley for 15 years ... He has been an inspiration and I mean that sincerely. He knows probably more about county government than anyone here does ... And I know that we will be in good hands with Charlie as the county executive,'' Burkett added.
Councilman Mike O'Mara, D-north county, seconded the nomination saying he would miss Dooley and his great representation of the 1st District, but he agreed with Burkett and said the council needed to move on with its system of government.
David Lee, a Democrat who ran against Westfall in the August 2002 primary for county executive, had appeared earlier that evening during the open forum asking councilmen to consider appointing him county executive.
Still, councilmen immediately closed nominations after Dooley's nomination was completed.
Chairman Gregory Quinn, R-west county called for a roll-call vote and the motion passed, 6-0, with Dooley abstaining.
"I think that in getting Charlie Dooley in the county executive (position), we're getting a person of integrity, a person who is very capable and I believe that the county is in very good hands," Quinn said.
Councilman John Campisi, R-south county, had spoken with Dooley and expressed his support before the council meeting.
"I'm going to say again what I said in the hallway. I think the county will be fine by you ... And I think you'll do us proud," Campisi said.
Dooley told the council he hopes to echo Westfall's bipartisanship, which was a "hallmark" of his administration. He said he knows he will not be able to perform his duties as county executive by himself and he plans to employ the wisdom and knowledge of Westfall's staff and the county council.
"Buzz Westfall was a very personal friend of mine. I ask that each and every one of you, please keep his wife and his family in your prayers," Dooley said. "... I will pledge to this council that I will do everything within my power to work with you even when there are times that we might not agree, but I will tell you this, I will work with you until we find a solution. I give you my pledge on that because I'm concerned about St. Louis County, where we live. It is a great place to live."
Councilmen are prohibited from holding other state or county offices, according to the County Charter.
It is for this reason that Dooley submitted his resignation minutes after the council voted him in as the current county executive.
The county will conduct a special election to fill Dooley's council seat, but at time of publication — Monday, Nov. 10 — no date had been set.
Dooley later told reporters he plans to retain all of the staff members Westfall previously appointed.
He also said his first priority as county executive will be the budget. Before his death, Westfall and his staff had prepared a preliminary budget for 2004. A public hearing on the proposed 2004 budget will take place Tuesday, Nov. 18.
"Right now I'm trying to focus on getting the county back on its feet again and move forward ...," Dooley said.
Also, during the Nov. 3 meeting, county councilmen unanimously approved a resolution that renames the St. Louis County Justice Center so it now is called the Buzz Westfall Justice Center.
"It is a fitting tribute that the St. Louis County Justice Center be named after a public servant whose entire career showed his commitment to law enforcement and whose devotion to the St. Louis County was unparalleled,'' the resolution states.
Councilmen plan to present a certified copy of the resolution to Westfall's wife, Laurie, as a token of the council's respect and admiration for Westfall during the building's dedication at a future date.
Westfall had served 12 years as county prosecutor before he became county executive in 1990.
Skip Mange, R-west county, told councilmen he was glad to support the renaming of the building.
"Several months ago, I walked down the street with Buzz and we walked right by this building (justice center). And this was shortly after we had named this building after Larry Roos," Mange said. "I said, 'Buzz, your name should be on this building some day.' And he kind of looked at me and smiled and we just went on.
"Well, I'm happy to do this. I just wish it wasn't today. I'd rather have to do this 10 years from now,'' Mange said.