St. Louis County's new executive intends to rebuild county government from the bottom up. Democrat Steve Stenger took office Thursday after a heated primary battle with incumbent Charlie Dooley and a close general election race against Republican Rick Stream.
Stenger will order an audit of all county departments, hire more Certified Public Accountants to keep an eye on expenses and stream line procedures to make St. Louis County more "business friendly." He also intends to create an Office of Community Empowerment to help deal with issues in impoverished areas of the county, particularly Wellston and Spanish Lake. He noted the same office would funnel services to areas like Ferguson that need to rebuild.
Speaking to a crowd of some six hundred invited guests, the 42-year old lawyer and CPA said citizens "have become concerned with the direction we are headed and the very way we deal with the issues we face." Stenger promised change. "We can no longer rest on our past notions of equality and fairness."
During a news conference prior to his swearing-in ceremony, Stenger told reporters he recognized some citizens were disappointed by the results of the August Democratic primary against 11-year incumbent Charlie Dooley, the first African American to serve as St. Louis County's top elected official.
Stenger promised a transparent administration and an open door policy. "I'll make myself very available for dialogue," he said adding "We need to move forward; we need to move past the election."
The Rev. Ethel Byndom of Shalom Church City of Peace in north St. Louis County was among the clergy offering blessings at the ceremony. She praised Stenger for his approach to the minority community.
"He talks about fairness; he talks about inclusion," she said. "We really can't continue to just close our eyes and believe that we're all on an equal playing field; I think he recognizes that."
The Inaugural Ceremony was moved from its traditional location in the St. Louis County Council Chambers to the sixth floor jury room in the County Courthouse after county law enforcement reported multiple threats had been made.
Invited guests and media members were screened by court security teams before heading upstairs. Stenger declined to give any details about the threats other than to say they were made over time and just recently. "We could have cancelled this, but what is important is to move forward and not let anything slow us down," Stenger said.
St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch was sworn in for his seventh consecutive term. Patrick Dolan and Mark Harder were also sworn in as members of the St. Louis County Council.