By Lindsay Toler
By Chad Garrison
By Allison Babka
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"I said, 'Present? Present what?' There had been no discussion with any of the school board members," Green says. She had expected a "sit-down" from someone from the school board or the mayor's office, briefing her on the changes that were planned. There was none. "When I got the call from Fleishman-Hillard, I was surprised and shocked. Then I became sad, saying, 'Well, is this a set-up?'"
If Green publicly opposes the upcoming charter reform, it will be significant because, with the defeat of mayoral candidates Bosley and Clarence Harmon, she is arguably the highest profile black elected official. After defeating Jim Shrewsbury in a special election in '96, Green has been elected citywide twice. She and Williams are the city's only two citywide black elected officials.
Her tiff with Slay pits two politicians with dissimilar backgrounds. Green grew up the eldest of six children in a single-parent home in the Pruitt-Igoe public-housing complex. She went to Vashon High School before receiving a scholarship to Washington University, where she graduated in 1978.
Slay is the second-eldest of eleven children who grew up in a brick bungalow on Scanlan Street in South St. Louis. Slay's father, Francis R. Slay, has been the 23rd Ward committeeman for more than 30 years and served as a state representative and as the city's Recorder of Deeds. Slay graduated from St. Mary's High School, Quincy College and St. Louis University School of Law. He served as 23rd Ward alderman for ten years before being elected aldermanic president in 1995. Slay was elected mayor in 2001.
Green and Slay are similar in that neither seems eager to deal with the media. Much of the friction between the two officials is the product of their staffs. But even though the conflict is below the radar, it is real and could have significant consequences as the city's charter is dissected and reworked this year.
Slay gingerly avoids criticizing Green in public, but he can't help but say his life would be simpler without having to go through both the boards of aldermen and E&A.
"Right now I have to go to two boards to spend money and engage in contracts. The framers of the charter felt that a weaker form of mayor was appropriate. The framers of our state and United States constitutions felt that a stronger chief executive was a better way to go," Slay says. "Yes, it would certainly be easier for me if I did not have to go to another board to make a decision. I'm sure there are people out there who think another step in the process is good."
Slay insists his conflict with Green isn't personal and shouldn't affect proposed changes to the charter.
"Whatever differences we have are issue by issue," Slay says. "To me it has nothing to do with anything else other than a disagreement on an issue. That should have no impact at all, in my view, on charter reform and what position I take or anybody else takes."
Green doesn't quite buy that argument. She suspects that the frequent carping in the press about the comptroller's office might be an effort by the mayor's staff to make Green look like she's part of City Hall's problems.
"I wouldn't put it past them," Green says. "The mayor's office has historically looked at the comptroller's office and tried to say it's obstructionist, stopping the progress of the city bringing in new business and new developers. That's not true."
That a mayor and a comptroller do not get along is not that surprising. The difference is that the timing of this conflict is critical to the nature and extent of City Hall reform.
For Bert Walker, who spent his professional life in the world of private finance and investment, the city's system of "fiscal management" doesn't make much sense.
"Darlene Green is a friend of mine, I like her and I think she is capable," Walker says. "But financially it's not very efficient to have a whole financial organization structured the way it is. I don't just mean Darlene, I mean the license collector and the collector of revenue and treasurer and so forth. They're all disjointed. I do not think that's the hallmark of an efficient city government structure."
And Walker, who stresses that he is speaking as an individual and not as the former chairman of the reform push, is not a supporter of the Board of E&A. "I haven't seen or heard any persuasive argument that the board makes sense," he says.
Conflicts between mayors and comptrollers are historic in St. Louis, the most recent happening after Mayor Vince Schoemehl appointed Virvus Jones comptroller in 1988. In the '70s, Comptroller Raymond Percich and Mayor Jim Conway weren't two people you'd invite to the same poker game. Even back in the '30s, Comptroller Louis Nolte went to court to get the powers of his office defined.
From a political standpoint, taking on the comptroller is not often a wise thing for a mayor to do, particularly if the comptroller is low-key, like John Poelker, John Bass or Paul Berra. Even when there is controversy, it's hard to one-up a comptroller.