St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell responded Tuesday to a 5 On Your Side I-Team investigation that revealed he owes hundreds of dollars in unpaid parking tickets on a government-issued SUV.
In a prepared statement posted to his campaign's Facebook page, Bell said:
"I was elected to handle the multitude of responsibilities of the prosecutor’s office in an efficient and effective manner. This parking practice has been ongoing for years and continues to this day, not only by this office and the previous prosecutor’s administration, but also by many other county agencies. Upon entering office, we were informed of the rules and we have followed those rules.
We filed the matter in court in an attempt to be open and transparent, and resolve this matter pursuant to the before-mentioned practices. We anticipate this matter will be resolved quickly. I want to assure all County Residents we will not be bogged down by parking issues and will forge ahead with the many serious tasks and reforms that residents voted us in to do.”
On Monday, the I-Team reported that after just seven months on the job, Bell has accumulated 10 unpaid parking tickets while using a 2016 taxpayer-funded red Chevrolet Tahoe.
The SUV is owned by St. Louis County, but assigned to Bell's office for use in his official capacity as the county's chief law enforcement officer.
The I-Team reported the 10 tickets were all issued by the City of Clayton between April 4 and June 18 for violations like parking too close to a fire hydrant, not feeding the meter and parking in a no-parking zone.
On Tuesday, however, after getting a public records request back from the city, the I-Team became aware of an eleventh parking ticket that Bell currently owes.
Bell received a $60 ticket in March 2019 for parking the Tahoe at an expired meter.
That pushes his overall debt owed to Clayton to nearly $800, according to the city's established fines for parking violations listed in its municipal code.
Documents obtained from Clayton city officials through the same public records request also seem to undermine Bell's reaction to this reporting.
Under the county's previous prosecuting attorney, Bob McCulloch, the same SUV was ticketed at least 18 times for various parking violations ranging from expired meters to parking in no-parking zones between 2015 and 2018.
The main difference, though, is every single one of McCulloch's tickets were paid.
When reached by phone, McCulloch told the I-Team he paid for each parking ticket he got during his nearly 30 years in office with money out of his own pocket and not with taxpayer funds.
He also said he almost exclusively parked in the covered, secure garage off Bonhomme Ave. that's reserved for county employees only. Then, he said, he would take the sky bridge from the courthouse and walk over to the justice center.
That is a practice that the new administration under Bell seems to take issue with.
Bell's Chief of Staff, Sam Alton, said they need parking spots immediately outside their offices in the justice center because they come and go so often.
"To have to walk all the way over there (to the other garage) and walk all the way back, it doesn't sound tedious, but I promise you it is tedious especially if you need to get somewhere fast," Alton said.
That's why Bell's office is challenging the unpaid tickets in court. A hearing on the matter is scheduled for early August.
They're also working with the St. Louis County Port Authority, the City of Clayton and St. Louis County to secure newly restricted parking spots in a public lot off Carondelet Ave. across from the justice center.
It could potentially mean fewer spots for the public and visitors to downtown Clayton to park.
Until the parking situation resolves itself, Clayton Police have temporarily agreed to stop ticketing four cars, including the SUV and Alton's personal Jeep, associated with Bell's office. That's only if they aren't blocking a fire hydrant or a crosswalk.
Alton also owes more than $100 for three unpaid parking tickets tied to his work in Bell's office.
It's unclear what money would be used if a judge orders Bell and Alton to pay their parking tickets.