New information is surfacing in the investigation into a St. Louis County council member involving a potential conflict of interest.
The investigation surrounds St. Louis County District 6 Councilman Ernie Trakas and whether or not he violated the county charter.
The charter states 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.
The county's website reads that Trakas holds a day job as an attorney, with clients including Missouri public schools, colleges and universities. Some see his jobs as a councilman and as an attorney not only a conflict of interest but a violation of the county charter.
Prosecuting Attorney for St. Charles County Timothy Lohmar filed documents in court Friday afternoon stating he believes that Trakas has violated the county charter and must vacate his seat.
A judge, however, will have final say.
Trakas released the follow statement regarding Lohmar's motion:
"The attempt to remove me from office is part of an orchestrated attack by County Executive Steve Stenger to end investigations into pay to play schemes in county Government. As Chairman of the County Council's Ethics Committee, I am undeterred and will continue investigating insider deals in St. Louis County. The Committee's current focus is leases for county office space at the old Northwest Plaza. Developers who gave $365,000 to the Stenger campaign received lucrative lease terms that could cost county taxpayers $25 to $30 million more than originally disclosed. It is my feeling that the lawsuit against me is nothing but harassment. My focus will be on continuing to serve the people of South County as their representative on the County Council," the statement read.
The investigation into Trakas began when St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch said he thinks Trakas may have broken the law in the potential violation that could cost him his seat.
McCulloch said he asked the courts to appoint someone to investigate after News 4 showed him documents we obtained through a public records request.
"If [the documents have] accurate information, then yeah, it's something that needs to be investigated," said McCulloch.
McCulloch said what Trakas did was a technical violation in the county charter.
“You can't work for any other public body,” McCulloch said.
If a councilman does work for another public body, the law states their county council seat shall be vacated.
“It’s essentially an automatic forfeiture of the office,” McCulloch said.
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, Trakas has billed the three districts for services. Records show he has been paid, although for relatively small dollar amounts.
McCulloch said, even still, “I think there is enough there [for an investigation]. That he represented public school districts and I think that would clearly violate that provision of the charter."
But legal ethics lawyer Michael Downey disagrees, in part.
"Mr. Trakas' role isn't really an employment relationship," Downey said.
He said contract work is not like getting a full-time salary, and he the intent of the law is to rule out conflict of interest.
"If [Trakas had serviced] 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 denied speaking with us.
"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 to News 4.
But McCulloch said a special investigator should have the ultimate decision.
Trakas said the whole thing is “a bogus political diversion” by St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger.
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