I recently posted on social media a response to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch article regarding my expense account as St. Louis County prosecutor. But, upon further reflection, my post was inadequate given how I’ve come to understand the importance of what was really at stake in this issue.
So let me begin by apologizing for a lapse in judgment for which there’s no acceptable excuse. Serving as St. Louis County prosecutor is a public trust, and it is important to recognize even the appearance of impropriety can cause many to believe that trust has been violated.
The most valuable asset any public official possesses is the trust of the public and their confidence that he will exercise his best judgment. It is clear in hindsight that I didn’t exercise good judgment. But the work we are doing is too important to be sidetracked by what many would justifiably consider irresponsible spending, regardless of the well-meaning intention of building relationships.
Additionally, the argument that my predecessors spent similarly, while true, is not an excuse – I was elected to do better.
While it is important to me to show appreciation to the hard-working public servants in our office, I must always remember this is county government, not the private sector.
The norms of government and the public’s perception of appropriate and acceptable behavior are not the same for the public sector as the private sector.
This region has seen more than enough of its share of divisiveness. But with a great team, we have made a point to reach out to build strong relationships with law enforcement, with community organizations and with residents, with the understanding that the justice system is built on trust. That endeavor has been very successful, and we will continue working to bring people together.
I am proud of the work we have accomplished and the reforms we have implemented these first 10 months, e.g. helping to change the cash bail system, working with stakeholders to reduce the jail population of non-violent offenders by over 20 percent, being selected for a $1.2 million grant, working with community partners to expand treatment programs, creating a dedicated homicide unit so the most experienced attorneys will deal with the most serious crimes.
I want to be clear that this has been a collaborative effort. We thank the stakeholders, community and grassroots organizations, and supporters who have worked tirelessly alongside us to reform the justice system and work to end mass incarceration. However, there are those who do not want to see these changes come to our region, and I cannot allow my missteps to undermine our mission. I must and will be better.
Wesley Bell is the St. Louis County prosecutor.