On August 4, St. Louis County voters will choose who gets to complete Steve Stenger’s unexpired term as county executive. It’s a primary election, but the Democratic nominee will win the general election on November 3 – if he doesn’t get indicted first. That’s not entirely a joke. A week before the primary, a labyrinth of investigations has been called for and law suits threatened. This is perhaps fitting, since Stenger will be completing his second term as county executive, not in the county seat of Clayton, but rather 556 miles away in the Federal Prison Camp in Yankton, South Dakota.
The investigative and litigious fireworks started when attorney Jerome Dobson announced that he was filing an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaint of racial discrimination on behalf of St. Louis County Police Lt. Col. Troy Doyle, a Black police leader. Doyle claimed that interim St. Louis County Executive Dr. Sam Page supported Doyle’s bid to become the next St. Louis County Police chief until Page caved into racist pressure. Captain Mary Barton, a white woman, received the unanimous vote of the Board of Police Commissioners and was appointed chief.
Page responded that Doyle was indeed his choice for chief, but that the police board is an independent governing body that chose Barton instead. Notably, neither Doyle nor his attorney Dobson alleged racial discrimination against the police commissioners who actually chose Barton over Doyle. They focused on Page, who appointed four of the five commissioners but has no vote on the board himself.
Perhaps that is because Page is facing an election to upgrade from interim to actual county executive, whereas the police commissioners are not. (When Stenger resigned last April, the County Council, of which Page was a member, voted Page to be interim county executive. The County Charter calls for the appointed successor to serve until the next general election, when the officeholder is chosen by public vote.)
Dobson, Doyle’s attorney, made explicit mention of the looming primary election in a voice message that he left with Winston Calvert, Page’s chief of staff. Dobson said he was willing to show Doyle’s grievance to Page and Calvert and give them the option of settling for $3.5 million rather than have the EEOC complaint filed – and publicized – before the primary election.
Page’s attorney as interim county executive, County Counselor Beth Orwick, responded with a firm no to the settlement offer and two complaints of her own. She said that Dobson had violated a professional rule of conduct – in a legal matter, attorneys of record are supposed to deal directly with each other and not with third parties; Orwick, not Calvert, is Page’s attorney in this matter. (Dobson was reprimanded by the Missouri Supreme Court last year for breaking this same rule.)
Orwick also accused Dobson of extortion. Dobson said the deadline of the primary election was part of an initial offer, not a threat. He may have a chance to explain that to the U.S. attorney, as the matter has been referred for federal investigation.
So, that is one EEOC complaint – if Dobson actually filed one; the document cannot be made public while the matter is under review – and one federal investigation. There is more to come.
July 24 was the deadline that Dobson gave Page to settle with Doyle before they went public with their grievance. That was the day that Dobson broke the news of the grievance. Two other things happened that day with suspicious haste – kind of as if they had been prepared in advance in response to Doyle’s claims. Mark Mantovani, Page’s strongest opponent in the primary, issued a press release in support of Doyle. And one of Page’s colleagues on the County Council dropped a new bomb that will spark another federal investigation.
St. Louis County Councilman Ernie Trakas released an affidavit and a statement about meetings concerning county leases during the Stenger administration with implications for the Mantovani campaign. The documents are not new – they date from May 29, 2019 – and the meetings they document are even older, in January and February of 2018. Trakas said he was making these documents public on July 24 specifically to inform the voting public before the primary.
Why? Ed Rhode and Jane Dueker were two Stenger consultants present at the meetings about the leases, where data appears to have been manipulated in an effort to align with Stenger’s previously inflated estimate of savings. Rhode and Dueker have both been paid in recent months by ChangeSTL, a political action committee (PAC) working to elect Mantovani.
Rhode and Dueker said they have done nothing wrong, and Dueker (herself a lawyer married to a circuit judge) said she would lawyer up and sue Trakas for defamation.
Mantovani claimed that the PAC that has paid Rhode and Dueker is independent of his campaign and that he is not responsible for anything anyone did before they worked to elect him. Unfortunately for Mantovani’s attempt to distance himself from the taint of Stenger, his campaign is managed by Patrick Lynn, who worked on Stenger’s campaigns with the Kelley Group. (The Kelley Group also managed the successful mayoral campaign of St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson; a widely circulated Post-Dispatch photo of election night shows Krewson watching election returns over the shoulder of Dueker.)
In what could be unsettling news for Dueker and Rhode, one of the people sentenced to prison along with Stenger for his corrupt schemes, Bill Miller, was present for the meetings discussed in the documents released by Trakas. Miller’s plea bargain quotes statements he made in October and November 2018 that were recorded by a cooperating witness. These new documents report on meetings from January and February of 2018, possibly before the feds had a cooperating witness recording Stenger, Miller and others.
So, it is entirely probable that this is brand new information for federal investigators. Helpfully for the issuance of subpoenas, the documents provide guest lists for the people at the meetings. Given that the meetings were apparently about falsifying records about Northwest Plaza leases, where Stenger’s largest campaign donors were the county’s business partners, it’s safe to assume the Stenger file is open again in the U.S attorney’s office.
So, that is one alleged EEOC complaint, one new federal investigation of alleged extortion, one promised defamation suit, and a renewed federal investigation of alleged corruption. There is more to come.
Page’s ace in the hole in response to Doyle’s claim of racial discrimination was the voice message that Dobson left for Calvert saying that Page’s problems could all go away if he paid up $3.5 million before July 24. But Doyle was holding onto his own snippet of audio. He released it to media on July 27 to set up a press conference the next day. In this recording, Page tells Doyle that Page controls the police board. Remember: Page’s explanation for why Barton not Doyle was promoted to chief was precisely that Page does not control the police board.
Of course, there is more than one explanation for this discrepancy.
Scenario one: Page does control the police board and, despite his claim that he supported Doyle for chief, he directed the police board to promote Barton instead. This is the argument for Doyle’s threatened EEOC complaint, which Dobson said he filed. To prove this, Dobson will have to prove that Page actually influenced the police board. Right now, all we have is Page saying he controls the police board. Which brings us to scenario two: Page thought he could control the police board but could not. It is, after all, an independent governing body by design.
To sort this out, we would need privileged evidence of the exchanges between Page and police board members. It might be possible to get the relevant information from Missouri Sunshine Law requests – but only long after the election to keep Page or to replace him with Mantovani (or one of the other challengers, Jake Zimmerman or Jamie Tolliver).
At the press event to defend Doyle at Vinita Park City Hall on July 28, a series of Black elected officials, candidates and consultants called for a series of investigations that also could help sort out this mess. So, in addition to one alleged EEOC complaint, one new federal investigation of alleged extortion, one promised defamation suit, and a renewed federal investigation of alleged corruption, we can also add an investigation into the county executive allegedly tampering with the independent police board and an investigation into the police board’s process of independently choosing Barton over Doyle (with the implication that possibly the police board, not Page, was guilty of racial discrimination against Doyle).
The American requested the records of the police board’s deliberations. The police board declined to release the records and has the discretion to do so regarding a personnel matter.
Snapping pictures at the press event for Doyle was none other than Jane Dueker with one leg in a soft cast. Jane Dueker, who helped elect Steve Stenger and Lyda Krewson. Jane Dueker, who sat in those interesting meetings about those problematic leases with Stenger’s biggest campaign contributors. Jane Dueker, who is trying to elect Mark Mantovani to serve the rest of Stenger’s term.
The rest of Stenger’s term as county executive, that is. Stenger gets to serve the rest of his prison term. He is currently scheduled to be released at the end of 2021 – right about when the county executive will be getting ready to run for reelection.