St. Louis County Council affirms support for police chief
The St. Louis County Council has passed a resolution offering support for St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch, who's been in the middle of a well publicized controversy over a subcontract for the county’s crime lab.
With four "yea" votes and two abstentions, the council on Tuesday approved Councilman Greg Quinn’s resolution “thanking Chief Fitch for his dedicated service to St. Louis County” and “fully supporting Chief Fitch for the discharge of his duties.”
Among other things, the resolution lauded Fitch’s 30 years of service and “numerous” awards and recognitions.
In addition to Quinn, Councilwoman Colleen Wasinger, R-Town and Country, Councilman Pat Dolan, D-Richmond Heights, and Councilman Steve Stenger, D-Affton, voted for the resolution. Council Chairwoman Kathleen Burkett, D-Overland, and Councilwoman Hazel Erby, D-University City, abstained. Councilman Mike O'Mara, D-Florissant was absent.
“It’s a recognition that Chief Fitch is a dedicated public servant and we support him in his pursuit of the enforcement of the laws of St. Louis County and the pursuit of his job,” said Quinn, R-Ballwin.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has published a series of articles in the last week examining a subcontract for heating and air conditioning construction for St. Louis County’s new crime lab. The paper reported that the county awarded ICS Construction Service the contract to build the facility. That company then awarded a subcontract to SM Mechanical LLC to do about $3.7 million worth of heating and air conditioning work. Gregory Sansone, a member of the St. Louis County Police Board, is an owner of SM Mechanical LLC.
Amid questions whether that contract amounted to a conflict of interest, Fitch publicly called for a FBI investigation into the matter. Since then, he's gotten into some high-profile disagreements with St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley. That includes issuing a terse letter questioning whether St. Louis County chief operating officer Garry Earls had improperly inquired about the FBI investigation, which Dooley strongly denied.
St. Louis County Police Association president Gabe Crocker said in a statement earlier this month that Dooley “could restock the Police Board to further an apparent attempt to remove Chief Fitch.” The association also wanted to pass a resolution offering support for Fitch.
For his part, Fitch told the Beacon that the resolution came as a surprise, adding it was “very nice of [the council] to do that.”
When asked if the resolution was linked to his call for a FBI investigation, Fitch added “that’s not a question I can answer.”
He also said that “the support has been tremendous” since the Post-Dispatch stories ran, adding he’s received support from “hundreds” of people.
Dooley told reporters he had “no reaction to the resolution whatsoever.”
“I think the timing was unusual, but I’m going to take a pass on it,” he added.
Before she abstained from voting, Burkett asked whether Fitch was retiring or resigning from his job. When Fitch said "no," Burkett said, “I just wondered because normally this is when we get those resolutions.”
“I’m not exactly sure what this is all about,” Burkett said. “And unfortunately, it seems to me that there might be political motivation for it.”
Asked if the resolution had anything to do with Fitch’s role in the subcontractor situation, Quinn said, “No, I think there have been a lot of news reports … and I think the news reports highlight how difficult it is to be the police chief in a large county.”
“We just wanted to indicate our support for the job he’s done over the years for St. Louis County,” he added.
Council investigation unlikely
After the meeting, Burkett told reporters she took a dim view of Quinn’s call for the council to investigate the situation.
Quinn told the Post-Dispatch last week that he disagreed with St. Louis County Counselor Pat Redington’s contention that SM Mechanical’s contract didn’t violate the county charter because it was the ICS Construction Service – not St. Louis County – awarding the subcontract. He called for Burkett to “convene a committee to investigate this entire situation.”
But Burkett said on Tuesday that Quinn hasn’t asked him to form a committee.
“I mean, if it’s obviously something he wants me to do, then he needs to let me know about it,” Burkett said. “But quite frankly, I have no idea what that could possibly produce. I have no idea what he’s looking for.”
Dooley proposed last week adding subcontractors to the county’s conflict of interest policy. Asked about Quinn’s call for a council investigation, “he’s a councilman, he has every right to ask for anything he wants to ask for.”
“That’s his right,” Dooley said. “It’s up to the chair. But as a councilman, he has every right to ask for anything he wants to on the county council. And the council can take up any issue they choose.”
Still, Burkett said, Sansone should probably resign, adding “it’s reached a point where, in my opinion, he’s embarrassing the county executive.”
“If I were an outsider looking in, my take would be that Mr. Sansone maybe took advantage of a situation that maybe was not as far as the charter was concerned illegal,” Burkett said. “It certainly did not shine well on the county executive. And therefore I think Mr. Sansone, in my opinion, made a mistake. But again, that’s just my personal opinion.”
When asked last week whether Sansone should step down, Dooley said, "I believe in due process of law."
"I'm going to stick with that," Dooley said. "And I also recognize by the same token that my focus right now is replacing [Floyd Warmann]. That's my focus as we move forward."
Uplands Park votes scheduled for November
Besides the resolution, the county council gave final approval to a ballot item to disincorporate Uplands Park. Voters there will decide on Nov. 5 whether to become part of unincorporated St. Louis County.
If that ballot item gets 60 percent of the vote, Uplands Park will become the second municipality in recent years to disincorporate. St. George voters passed such an initiative in 2011.
Dooley told reporters that he would not get involved in the ballot item. Asked if he expected more municipalities to consider disincorporation, Dooley said he expected it to be "a case-by-case basis."