St. Louis County hires 4 more with Democratic ties

CLAYTON, Mo. (AP) — Four people with ties to Democratic politics have recently gotten jobs for St. Louis County government despite a hiring freeze, but those responsible for the hires say the workers are filling essential positions.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that new county assessor Jake Zimmerman, a Democrat, hired Sara Howard, 36, as deputy assessor and spokeswoman at an annual salary of $88,999. She was previously a spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, a St. Louis Democrat.

Zimmerman also hired a former member of his staff when he was a state legislator and a former political director of his campaign. Anna Gourdin, 28, the former legislative aide, will earn $36,000 annually as constituent services manager. Chalana Oliver, 30, will earn $46,760 as director of policy review and community engagement.

The fourth new hire is Jonathan Boesch, 35, hired by the St. Louis County Economic Council as assistant project manager at an annual salary of $50,200. He had been a field director in Zimmerman’s campaign last spring.

The newspaper said the additions come months after the county hired several others with strong Democratic connections, including the former campaign spokeswoman for County Executive Charlie Dooley and the son of Dooley’s campaign treasurer and manager.

Zimmerman, who in April became the county’s first elected assessor in more than 50 years, promised in his campaign not to fill his office with political cronies.

“As I said when I was running, I did not get into public service in order to give jobs to my buddies,” he said. “I do not have enough of a budget that I can waste money on do-nothing jobs and political make-work.”

He said the jobs were posted in several newspapers and he interviewed several candidates.

“Like any other employer, if you give me qualified candidates and one of them has worked for me before and I have knowledge of their ethics and what they are capable of doing, that will be someone that I’m biased in favor of,” he said.

The assessor’s job is to determine the value of taxable property, information used by taxing entities to determine tax rates. None of the new hires has any experience in assessments, but Zimmerman said he was seeking skills in customer service.

“We have 170 people on this staff who are pretty good at looking at houses and determining their values, but there has never been in anyone’s recent memory an organized, systematic way to figure out how we serve the external customers,” he said.

But county Councilman Greg Quinn, A Republican from Chesterfield, questioned the hires, calling them “essentially Democratic Party political operatives.”

“I was hoping that an elected assessor would help people receive fair assessments,” Quinn said. “But it just seems like this is politics as usual.”

Dooley instituted the hiring freeze three years ago. However, the assessor’s division is not subject to Dooley’s rules because it is led by an elected official. Meanwhile, the Economic Council is an independent organization that also falls outside Dooley’s purview.

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Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com

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