Alderman Florida Takes Charge After Recorder of Deeds Resigns Over Nepotism Claims

Jennifer Florida, the new Recorder of Deeds for St. Louis. - Sara Levin
Jennifer Florida, the new Recorder of Deeds for St. Louis.

Recorder of Deeds isn't the most exciting position in City Hall. Recorders don't typically make much news while officiating the city's official records, including birth, death and marriage certificates.

But the last month hasn't been typical.

After making a splash in the headlines for signing four same-sex marriage certificates in St. Louis last month, former Recorder of Deeds Sharon Q. Carpenter was forced to resign from the post she's held for nearly 34 years after admitting to nepotisic hiring practices.

See also: Meet the First Four Gay Couples to Marry in St. Louis (PHOTOS)

Carpenter hired her great-nephew to do office work, paying him $12,000 over several summers. But hiring any family members connected "within the fourth degree, by consanguinity or affinity" is against Missouri law; that includes great-newphews, according to the Missouri Ethics Commission.

Alderman Jennifer Florida, who represented the Tower Grove South neighborhood until Monday, has taken over the job until a new recorder is elected. Judge Steven Ohmer swore Florida in in Mayor Francis Slay's office Monday morning.

"The mayor asked me to accept this appointment because he has confidence in me," Florida tells Daily RFT. "I really am looking forward to getting to work. I am throwing myself in wholeheartedly and with great enthusiasm."

Florida won't have to be in the job too long, unless she decides to campaign for her new seat. She needs 2,000 signatures by July 28 to run in the November election as an independent, but Florida says she's leaving that decision "for another day."

"I'm really just going to focus on managing this office and on being the best possible recorder of deeds ever in the history of St. Louis," Florida says.

If she decides to run for Recorder, Florida will likely face fierce competition from her predecessor, Carpenter, who seems determined to earn her old post back. Carpenter is free to run for the position again after giving it up last week as a legal consequence of violating state law by hiring her great-nephew.

Florida will also take Carpenter's place in the lawsuit pending against the city for violating Missouri's ten-year-old Constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. The Attorney General is taking the Recorder of Deeds office to court after Carpenter signed four marriage licenses for gay couples, including one couple, Tod Martin and David Gray, that live in the district Florida used to represent.

"I think government needs to get out of the business of discrimination," Florida says. "I saw the value in taking this position and being the champion of making sure every city has their civil liberties and their opportunities."

Despite the sudden change, Florida says she still plans to stay involved in neighborhood politics in Tower Grove, especially with the Tower Grove Heights Homeowners Association and public safety efforts.

"I do plan to contribute to the life of our neighborhood and the leadership as well," she says. "I don't think I could help myself."

Follow Lindsay Toler on Twitter at @StLouisLindsay. E-mail the author at [email protected].

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