Prosecutor asks for special council investigation into St. Louis - KMOV.com

Prosecutor asks for special council investigation into St. Louis Co. council member's day job

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CLAYTON (KMOV.com) -

The St. Louis County prosecutor says he thinks a current council member may have broken the law, in a potential violation that could cost the elected official his seat.

Prosecutor Bob McCulloch told News 4 he asked the courts to appoint someone to investigate, after investigative reporter Lauren Trager showed him documents we obtained through a public records request.

"If it's accurate information then yeah, it's something that needs to be investigated," said McCulloch.

McCulloch says what District 6 Council member Ernie Trakas has done has been a technical violation in the county charter.

“You can't work for any other public body,” he said.

The charter, McCulloch says, is clear. It says “no member of the council shall hold any other office or employment under the United States, the state of Missouri or any political subdivision,” meaning counties, cities, or special districts such as school or park districts.

If they do, the law says their county council seat shall be vacated.

“It’s essentially an automatic forfeiture of the office,” he said.

But on the county's own website Trakas talks about his day job as an attorney.

The site says “Ernie’s clients include Missouri public school districts, colleges and universities."

So News 4 requested public records from various school districts.

What we found: Trakas has been retained by the Cape Girardeau, Jefferson City and Sikeston school districts for contracted legal work.

Since taking office, he has billed the three districts for services and records show has been paid, although for relatively small dollar amounts.

McCulloch says, even still, “I think there is enough there. That he represented public school districts and I think that would clearly violate that provision of the charter."

But legal ethics lawyer, Michael Downey, in part, disagrees.

"Mr. Trakas' role isn't really an employment relationship," Downey said.

He says contract work isn't like getting a full-time salary. And he the intent of the law is to rule out conflict of interest.

"If we had a local school district in the county, that would be a cause for concern, since they are all farther away from the county, that's less a cause for concern," he said.

We wanted to talk to Trakas on camera, but he refused, writing News 4, "I hold no office with, nor am I an employee of any public school district. Even the idea that providing services as an independent contractor for a school system is a conflict is laughable,” Trakas wrote.

But McCulloch says a special investigator should have the ultimate decision, especially to avoid any conflict of interest of his own.

“There have been some contentious moments, I'll say, between the County Council and the Prosecutor so even I would question my own ability to be completely objective in this,” said McCulloch.

Trakas says the whole thing is “a bogus political diversion” by St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger.

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