On Oct. 10, 1925, White Sox outfielder Ken Berry dove into the stands in an effort to steal a home run away from the hitter. Berry didn’t catch the game ball. He instead pulled an extra ball out of his back pocket, shoved it into his glove, and emerged triumphantly from the bleachers with a ball in hand. The umpire, who had missed the sleight of hand, ruled the batter out.
Just to show that Ken Berry wasn’t the only one who could pull the old hidden ball trick, County Council members Joe Cronin, Nancy Matheny, Terry Hollander and John White pulled their own hidden ball trick at the last County Council meeting. We should expect transparency from all levels of government and instead, got an example of how much like the old hidden ball trick government operations can be.
The County Council was considering Bill Number 3881 which would place a smoking ban on the November ballot. Despite having failed to follow the requirements of the St Charles County Charter to make the bill available to the public 36 hours before its first reading – first transparency as well as legal problem with the bill – the Council moved on to consider the bill.
The second transparent and potentially legal problem is that Councilman Cronin dropped a complete substitute of the bill, dividing it into two questions. The language in the ordinance appears to contradict the charter language and has other problems. With little-to-no discussion, the Council proceeded to adopt this substitute that had no public input and no public discussion.
The content was troubling enough, but the fact that even the council members who opposed the bill brought up neither the Charter violation nor the violation of the public trust by dropping the substitute without opportunity for public discussion is even more troubling. It gives the impression that this is not the first time this type of action has occurred. It calls into question how the residents of St. Charles County are being represented.
The Council passed several Charter amendments that night. All of them appear to have been hastily drafted and presented in a rush to meet a deadline that has been known for a very long time. You would think that when proposing changes to the county’s constitution — that’s what the Charter actually is — there would be more thought put into those changes. You would also think that there would be more opportunity for public input and interaction.
Unfortunately, the umpire, County Executive Steve Ehlmann, apparently didn’t see the sleight of hand and signed the bill. It could have been as a minority member of the Missouri House and Senate, floor substitutes were common place. I was a member of the first Republican majority in the House in 50 years. One of the first changes we made to the House Rules was to eliminate the shenanigans that can manifest themselves in floor substitutes by elminating them. The County should do the same.
As one of the original County Council members, I see a significant degradation in how the public is part of the process. We certainly made mistakes along the way. We made decisions based on what we thought was best for the public and solicited their input even on tough issues. We understood that we were elected to make tough decisions, not punt them to the public for a vote because we didn’t have the courage to take a vote and explain it. We are a republic after all, not a democracy.
We were setting the standard. Sadly, a standard that appears to have been relaxed.