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The $12K question: Why St. Louis County Police Chief Mary Barton accepted pay raise when prior chiefs refused

County Executive Sam Page’s police board gave Barton a $12,000 raise after her first seven months on the job, bringing her salary to $163,092.80
Credit: St. Louis County Police Dept.

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — What would you if your boss offered you a $12,000 raise?

St. Louis County Police Chief Mary Barton took it.

But her predecessors didn’t.

And now, their reasons for refusing pay raises from the St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners appear to be haunting her.

The commissioners are appointed by the County Executive.

When Jerry Lee was chief, the executive was Charlie Dooley.

His administration refused to give officers and commanders raises that Lee believed they deserved for years.

So when Dooley’s board offered him a raise, Lee said no thanks.

His successor, Tim Fitch did the same.

The salary freezes created a salary matrix mess, compounding lagging salaries for years.

But the former chiefs refused to accept raises if Dooley’s administration didn’t do the same for their rank and file.

Jon Belmar succeeded Fitch in 2014, and accepted a salary of about $150,000 – about $25,000 higher than Fitch had.

He also created the department’s first-ever Deputy Police Chief position, which had the same salary Fitch had when he retired.

The rank and file groaned internally about the issue.

And in the St. Louis County Police Association got its first collective bargaining contract under Belmar’s administration.

When County Executive Steve Stenger gave officers and commanders raises in 2015, about 60% of the department was making starting pay.

This week, I reported County Executive Sam Page’s police board gave Barton a $12,000 raise after her first seven months on the job, bringing her salary to $163,092.80.

RELATED: St. Louis County police board members mum about $12,000 raise to police chief

The 8% raise was effective Dec. 27, 2020 according to the department.

Meanwhile, officers and sergeants got a 3% raise, professional staff got a 2% raise and all commanders with the rank of lieutenant and above got their annual step increases, but no raises.

The police union has been trying to negotiate a new contract for sergeants with the Page administration for five months.

Now, it appears lieutenants are headed toward organizing, too.

The police union sent a letter to Page and the police board in January saying they would like to be recognized as the official bargaining unit, said Business Manager Matt Crecelius.

“When low to mid-level management is organizing, it demonstrates the issues that exist inside the organization,” Crecelius said. “When your managers are wanting to organize, you know something is wrong.”

The day my story about Barton’s raise published, Lt. Col. Brian Ludwig sent a department-wide email assuring lieutenants and above that Barton “remains committed” to their pay raises.

It read: “Several of you have reached out inquiring about the status of the proposed changes to the pay matrix for lieutenants and above. As a quick update, the chief remains committed to working with Dr. Page and the County Council to ensure the matrix and associated benefits are brought in line with the other work elements in the department. Dr. Page currently has the proposal and the chief spoke with him about it this morning. She intends to follow up later this week/early next and any updates will be provided after that meeting.”

The offer of a raise put Barton in a tough spot.

Take it, and one would assume the board approves of her performance – which has had a good deal of scrutiny.

Refuse it, and no one would know it was even ever offered should the board turn on her.

The chairman of the police board, Judge William Ray Price Jr., hung up on me when I tried to ask him why the board gave her the raise - saying it was a “personnel” matter.

So we will never know if the raise was a sign of their approval, an effort to cause dissension in the ranks or an effort to boost the chief’s salary to make the department more competitive with others.

And perhaps someday attract an outside candidate. 

Editor's note: The St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners gave Chief Mary Barton a $12,000 raise. An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect amount.

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