ST. LOUIS – After years of scrutiny while in office, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner had made the decision to resign, effective June 1. But that all changed Tuesday, when she announced, two weeks ahead of schedule, that she was leaving office.

A statement from the circuit attorney’s office said, “Ms. Gardner has been committed to serving the people of the City of St. Louis and has done all she can to ensure a smooth transition.”

Community leaders are reacting to Gardner’s announcement to step down sooner than expected.

Missouri Governor Mike Parson, who will appoint Gardner’s replacement, met with local faith leaders at the Wainwright State Office Building in downtown St. Louis. He then visited City Hall and met with Mayor Tishaura Jones to get her input about the search for a new circuit attorney.

Parson’s meeting with the clergy lasted about two hours. Clergy members said the governor told them there are some really good candidates, and he’s impressed with some of those who have applied. A total of 18 people have applied for the job.

Gardner’s successor will serve out the remainder of her current term, ends in January 2025.

Religious leaders voiced their concerns during the meeting and gave suggestions on who to pick as the next circuit attorney.

“I think that (Gardner) took so many hits, that she finally had to make a decision what was in her personal best interest. I think with (St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney) Wesley Bell being in that office now, being a part of the transition, and her feeling comfort with that, I think that she felt that I can take a step back now. Wesley’s here, the governor is going to make a decision, I don’t need to be in the way,” said Reverend Darryl Gray, a member of the Baptist Ministers Union and Community Justice Coalition.

“We talked about qualifications. We thought that it should be somebody who was not polarizing. We made it very clear, it should be somebody who has a knowledge, a historical knowledge, and culture knowledge of this community. We stressed that we thought, it should be an African-American. We didn’t think it should be anybody who’s already announced that they were going to run. So, I think that based on all the concerns that we have, I believe the governor shares those concerns.”

Parson said he’s looking for someone who can get the office running and restore law and order. The governor is expected to announce Gardner’s replacement on Friday.