ST. LOUIS — When St. Louis County Councilman Mark Harder was considering who he should nominate to serve as the interim county executive, he said Sam Page was his first choice.
But he had a question for him, first.
“I asked him, ‘What are you going to do about your medical practice?’” Harder recalled. “He told me he had worked out an arrangement to put his career on hold.”
Harder said he wasn’t the only one concerned that an anesthesiologist was about to take the helm of the county for a $140,000 salary – certainly a pay cut compared to a doctor’s salary.
He was concerned because the charter states the county executive: “Shall devote his entire time to the duties of his office.”
“We took it at face value and went ahead appointed him,” Harder said. “It’s been 1 ½ years. We never thought anything different until the article appeared and this was brought to our attention.”
Harder is now drafting a resolution calling on St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell and attorneys for the county to investigate what he believes is a charter violation.
In a statement, Page’s spokesman Doug Moore said, “It’s not a violation.”
But it appears Page did put his medical career on hold – somewhat.
In an April 2019 story, Jason Rosenbaum of St. Louis’ KWMU wrote, “With a special election looming in 2020, Page didn’t commit to running to serve out the rest of Stenger’s term. But he did reflect on why he ended up accepting the position, especially since it meant giving up his lucrative job as an anesthesiologist.”
“Public service is a sacrifice. Everyone who is in elected office sacrifices financially and with their time for the opportunity to serve,” said Page, who added he would be taking a leave of absence from his practice soon. “Actually it was a conversation with my wife that changed my mind. She said, 'The county is a mess, and you know more about it than anyone. And you should go and try to help fix it.’”
I asked Moore if Page had ever taken that leave of absence.
He responded with a statement from Page himself: “Yes, I am on leave from my practice I was a full time anesthesiologist. I am no longer. In order to maintain my license, I work as an anesthesiologist in my free time occasionally on weekends.”
I asked the State Board of Registration for the Healing Arts -- which oversees physician's licenses -- whether seeing patients was a requirement to maintain a medical license in Missouri.
Simple answer? No.
The board requires physicians to complete 50 hours of continuing education classes every two years to maintain their license.
I asked Moore why Page believes he has to continue to see patients in order to maintain his license, and he responded with his original statement, which repeated the assertion.
"Being a physician helps inform Dr. Page’s decisions in response to this pandemic. Dr. Page works the occasional shift to maintain his medical license and credentialing so that he can go on a mission trip once a year. His last mission trip was January 2020, to the Dominican Republic."
So what’s the big deal if the county executive is moonlighting as an anesthesiologist in his free time, anyway?
Harder said rules are rules.
“What’s the point of having a county charter that the voters put in place if we’re not going to follow it or enforce it?” he asked.
It should also be noted that the days of Harder and the other Republicans on the council supporting Page are long gone.
A lot has happened since Page took the reins, and Harder along with Tim Fitch frequently clash with him.
Fitch raised concerns about whether Page could be impartial when deciding how best to distribute CARES Act funds when his practice is the sole anesthesiology contractor for Mercy Hospital.
He said if he were an executive for SSM or Barnes Jewish Center, he would have concerns about a conflict of interest involving the county executive.
Voters will have a chance to weigh in on whether this issue is a deal-breaker for them in just a few weeks.
Page won the democratic primary, which typically means he will win the general as Republicans don’t do well in the county.
His challenger, Paul Berry III, predictably, is also jumping on this issue.
In a statement, he called for Page to resign.
“Any argument regarding Page needing to work as a doctor because of the COVID crisis to keep hours to maintain his physician license or to earn a doctor’s income to maintain his lifestyle as being lawful is absolutely incorrect,” Berry wrote.
Moore’s original response to the concerns about Page’s side gig also noted the timing of it all.
So did a statement from Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell, which read he finds it “interesting” how allegations like this surface around election time.
Bell also said he had not received any complaints about the issue.
That could change should the council approve Harder’s resolution.