Clarence, Missing in Action

Mayor Clarence Harmon may have nominated Capt. Beverly Noble-Barnes for a controversial promotion, but he didn't attend a police-board meeting to back her up

When St. Louis Mayor Clarence Harmon makes the claim that he's not a politician, it's stated with certain disdain for the profession, as if being a politician and mayor would be a bad idea. Last Thursday, when Harmon wanted to paint one of his mayoral opponents, Aldermanic President Francis Slay, as a political insider, he got some publicity by saying Slay's neutral stance on a casino in Lemay was triggered by Slay's having a relative involved in the South County casino proposal.

"Another deal has been cut, and the people of the city of St. Louis are on the losing end," Harmon said at a rally in opposition to the casino proposal. Harmon and others fear a South County casino would be a major hit on the President Casino on the Admiral.

On the same day, Harmon issued another statement about why he wouldn't attend the latest meeting of the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners, of which he is a member. In that release, this spin was spun: "Harmon said the Board had no plans to finalize the promotion of Captain Beverly Noble-Barnes to Lieutenant Colonel at today's meeting, so he felt his presence was not needed. Harmon said he continues to support the promotion of Captain Noble-Barnes to Lieutenant Colonel and would like the promotion finalized as soon as possible."

The more cynical among us might believe that Harmon's absence had more to do with the fallout from the promotion of Noble-Barnes, his nominee, to lieutenant colonel. The promotion had just been waylaid by a temporary court order by Circuit Judge David Mason; Mason ruled that the Police Board had violated its own rules and state law by leapfrogging Barnes-Noble from captain to lieutenant colonel, skipping over the rank of major. Three majors had sued to stop the promotion.

Noble-Barnes was not Police Chief Ron Henderson's first choice for the promotion. Likewise, Henderson didn't want an assistant police chief, but he got one anyway, in the person of Col. Joseph Mokwa. In an effort to placate Henderson, the promotion of someone to lieutenant colonel was planned. But Harmon, who will never be considered a close associate of Henderson's, did not want Henderson ally Maj. Greg Hawkins promoted to lieutenant colonel. The choice of Noble-Barnes, an African-American woman, was more politically expedient, so she was picked, even though she was just a captain. With three votes required, board president Eddie Roth and commissioner Mark Smith needed Harmon's vote to promote Mokwa. For the Noble-Barnes promotion, Harmon needed Roth's and Smith's. It was Let's Make a Deal without Monty Hall.

The board meeting was held a day after Mason's ruling, and for once a police-board meeting promised to be interesting. The Rev. Maurice Nutt, a new commissioner, apologized to Henderson for the snafu over the Noble-Barnes promotion. Nutt said he was unaware that Noble-Barnes was not Henderson's first choice. Another commissioner, Dr. Leslie Bond, said he was "in the dark" about how the decision was made and offered that "there should be a process for such a promotion."

Roth, without Harmon at the meeting, was left to fend for himself. He and the board announced that Henderson will come up with a formal procedure to promote captains to majors. Roth maintained that the Noble-Barnes promotion would still be pursued. The tactic of promoting her to major, then to lieutenant colonel, might be pursued, giving new meaning to the term "fast track." In the courts, the case has been shifted to Circuit Judge Robert Dierker, which may change the judicial chemistry of the case.

Because it was Harmon who picked Noble-Barnes, questions linger as to why the former police chief didn't know a leap from captain to lieutenant colonel might be blocked by the courts. And if deals are being made to set up promotions, with the situation turning into a train wreck, why doesn't the conductor show up to sort through the wreckage?

Deal-making, backroom politics and horse-trading are nothing new in the city's police department. No one gets to be chief of police without being knee-deep, waist-deep or chin-deep in politics. Harmon is no novice at this -- just ask former state Sen. J.B. "Jet" Banks or former Mayor Freeman Bosley Jr. When Harmon says he isn't a politician, all it means is that this is the first time he's been elected to office. It's just turned out that being mayor of a troubled city is a rough place to start.

NEW LIFE SAME AS OLD LIFE FOR ONION, KASEN: Maybe it's like the stages of the moon, or the alignment of planets. Periodically, Mark Kasen and Richard "Onion" Horton get on a radio station and stir up the pot; next there's some financial dispute, and then they're off the air. First it was WGNU (920 AM), then the KWK (1380 AM) "black talk radio" experience, and now it's WINU (880 AM). This time it's Kasen and WINU owner the Rev. Larry Rice embroiled in a $30,000 disagreement.

These flaps may look similar, but Kasen says there are variations on the theme. "Basically it was over money," he says of this most recent go-round. "Last time it was a little bit about money and a little bit about politics."

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