CLAYTON, Mo. — Loopholes within county government policies and procedures allowed former County Executive Steve Stenger to engage in a federal pay-to-play scheme that landed him in the penitentiary last year — and it could happen again, according to a draft of a state audit obtained by 5 On Your Side.
The County Council requested State Auditor Nicole Galloway review the county's affairs after Stenger’s indictment, according to the audit. Galloway’s office gave County Council members a copy of a draft of the audit during a closed session Tuesday.
Some of the vulnerabilities Stenger exploited remain within county government, according to the audit. Essentially, Stenger was convicted of holding up contracts the council approved in exchange for campaign contributions.
The 40-page analysis also dissected county government affairs mostly between December 2017 and December 2019 — most of which included current County Executive Sam Page as chairman of the County Council.
“The County Council did not provide sufficient oversight of the former County Executive's operations,” it states. “The council allowed procedures to be circumvented and did not utilize the County Auditor to investigate issues brought to their attention.”
It continued: “A lack of adequate oversight by the County Council helped allow the former County Executive to take actions not in the best interests of the county.”
The Council appointed Page to fill Stenger’s seat in April 2019. He won the Democratic primary Aug. 4.
Page’s Chief of Staff Winston Calvert responded to 5 On Your Side with a statement, which said Page — not the County Council — requested the audit shortly after he was appointed to “help identify areas to reform county government and the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership.”
“We knew county government needed to be reformed and we have worked to do that in the past year,” according to the statement. “We are grateful for the state auditor’s help identifying more work to be done.”
Some of the key findings within the document include:
- Stenger withheld contracts indefinitely, which led to delays in projects, the loss of federal funding and contractors. The county has not done anything to prevent the County Executive from sitting on contracts
- A lack of county ordinances also allowed Stenger to add his own employees to the selection committee for contracts
- The County Executive’s Office has given 17 employees about $207,500 in raises without a change in their job titles, but the audit doesn’t specify whether they were Stenger’s hires or Page’s.
- The county’s auditor, Mark Tucker, is not in compliance with government and internal auditing standards and none of the three employees working for him had auditing experience before they were hired. Tucker is a friend of Page’s, a former lobbyist for the anesthesiologists association. Page is an anesthesiologist. Stenger had called for Tucker to be fired.
The audit also contained multiple recommendations on ways the County Council and the County Executive can ensure there won’t be a repeat of the Stenger administration.
- The county should allow the County Council to execute contracts without the executive’s signature or require the County Executive to make his objections to contracts known to the County Council.
- Review and update the requirements for the county auditor position and staffing, ensure the County Council is fully utilizing the auditor and clarify which standards, if any, the auditor should follow.
- Provide adequate oversight for all appointed positions and the compensation of non-merit employees, ensure all appointed positions working for the County Executive are included in the County Executive's budget to ensure transparency to the public
The audit also explained how and which projects failed to move forward under Stenger’s administration.
In all, Stenger held back 13 of 21 contracts the auditor’s office tested for more than 14 days before signing them; 4 of them for longer than 100 days. The longest was withheld for 260 days with an average of 81 days.
The projects the audit that did not move ahead that the audit highlighted included a pedestrian route to Larimore Elementary School and the milling and resurfacing of Hildesheim Avenue and South Broadway Street.
You can read the draft of the audit below: