Madison - St. Clair Record

Friday, December 13, 2019

St. Louis Co. exec Page holds fire at meeting on Metro-Link security after weeks earlier blasting St. Clair Co. for ‘power grab’

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By The Madison County Record | Sep 11, 2019

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CLAYTON, Mo. – St. Louis County executive Sam Page, who blasted St. Clair County on Aug. 27, chose not to pursue the attack on Sept. 10.

He kept quiet at a meeting on Metro-Link security, a topic he had tied to approval of an annual subsidy for Bi-State trains and buses.

Bi-State chief executive Taulby Roach, whose selection Page found suspicious in August, observed the proceedings.

Earlier in the day Page told the county council the meeting would address security and Bi-State’s request for $160 million from St. Louis County.

The meeting addressed security for two hours, but no one mentioned $160 million or said anything specific about St. Clair County.

Page left halfway through without excusing himself.

At the Aug. 27 meeting, he said crime on Metro-Link was out of control.

He said police do a good job on Metro-Link in the county but there aren’t enough police in other places, adding that if Bi-State can’t make Metro-Link safe, the rest of the region must step in.

Bi-State requested $160 million at the same time it cut services to the county more than it cut other parts of the metropolitan area.

Page said he expressed concern to Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker about a bill giving St. Clair County twice as many seats as St. Louis County on Bi-State’s board, four to two.

He said the bill, which Pritzker signed, gave St. Clair County an effective veto over any action.

Each state has five commissioners. In Missouri, St. Louis City has three, St. Louis County, two. Any motion requires three votes from each state.

The new law going into effect Jan. 1 gives St. Clair County, headed by Democrat Mark Kern, the authority to appoint four commissioners, stripping the appointment power of Republican Madison County Board chairman Kurt Prenzler to one.seat.

Page said St. Louis County pays 47 percent of Bi-State’s budget and St. Clair County pays 17 percent.

He said St. Louis County pays on debt and St. Clair County doesn’t.

He referred to “those we thought were our friends in Illinois.”

“This is not what we signed up for,” Page said. “In what world is this right? How is it fair?”

He said St. Louis County would hold St. Clair County accountable for how it operates.

He said irregularities in Roach’s selection eroded public trust in Bi-State.

“It’s disappointing and it doesn’t inspire confidence,” Page said.

He said St. Clair County said to St. Louis County, “We’re taking over, we’re cutting your services, and we’re sending you the bill.”

“This latest power grab is fraught with reminders of what we just saw in St. Louis County,” he said.

At a meeting on Sept. 3, he said public safety was too important to leave in St. Clair County’s hands.

He set off no fireworks at the Sept. 10 meeting.

Presiding council member Ernie Trakas opened on a harsh note, saying Bi-State security was chronic and no longer acceptable.

He said the county dedicated 44 officers to Metro-Link and the city dedicated six.

 “This too is no longer acceptable,” Trakas said.

He introduced security consultant Lurae Stuart, who recommended that security guards carry no firearms.

Stuart stressed a difference between security and police, and said the training of guards doesn’t emphasize de-escalation.

She said there’s no consistent approach to fare enforcement. On her first Metro-Link ride, no one checked her fare.

“They thought they were doing something nice,” she said.

Council member Tim Fitch asked if she felt guards shouldn’t be armed, and she said yes.

“The new contract doesn’t have them armed,” Stuart said.

He asked if she had pushback and she said the guards believe they should be armed.

Council member Mark Harder said, “How do we do the other stuff when we can’t even write contracts?”

Fitch asked Stuart about Facebook video of a guard pulling a revolver.

“The amazing thing to me is the way people wandered around,” she said. “This society is totally numb to people waving guns around.”  

Trakas said, “You’re not going to change the culture in a year or two or three.”

Stuart said, “We think we can.”

Transit director Jessica Mefford-Miller introduced two security executives who started working for Bi-State on Sept. 9.

Public safety manager Stephen Berry was a deputy director of the Center for Urban Transportation Research in Florida.

Security director Kevin Scott was police chief in Ballwin, Mo.

 

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