CLAYTON, Mo. (KMOV.com) - It’s a controversial hire at the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney's office; some people are calling it a waste of tax dollars and a slap in the face to full-time employees.
The position is raising some eyebrows and frustrations.
A significant number of current and former employees of the prosecutor's office spoke to News 4. Fearing retaliation or repercussions, most did not want to go on the record, but one of them talked about their concerns.
“Here is a person who no one knows what she does,” said the person, who wanted to remain anonymous.
They’re talking about a young woman we’re calling Jane. News 4 is choosing to conceal her exact identity. The reason, in part, is because her job title is "intern."
Interns often play a big part in workplaces.
But at the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, there are a lot of questions about one particular intern.
"No one knows what she is there for, or what she does,” said the person who spoke with News 4.
Over the past several decades, the prosecutor’s office has had many interns. But most often, they're law students, capable of helping in the courtroom.
“They assist the lawyers in research, in motion preparation, in preliminary hearings. That would be the standard,” said the whistleblower.
They're also not paid a penny. Except for Jane.
She was hired back in January, shortly after Wesley Bell took office. She's the only paid intern in the office and earns a rate of $18 an hour, more than the hourly rate of 20 other regular employees, some of whom have worked there for years.
She even gets her own office, with her name on the door, something other employees don't have.
“It’s a slap in the face to the career professionals,” said the person News 4 spoke with.
But some people News 4 spoke with say that people do not know what her job duties are.
“People who do the day-to-day work, secretaries, prosecutors, and investigators, none of us know what she is there to do and none of us have seen her do anything related to prosecuting crime in St. Louis County,” said the whistleblower.
News 4 tried numerous times to talk with Bell about her job. The office refused repeated requests for an on-camera interview.
Instead, a spokesperson sent a statement saying the intern is a college student and, "the individual is classified as a seasonal part-time employee under civil service rules."
In a second statement, they said her role is not to be confused with the "Legal Intern Program."
After asking a number of times about what she does, we received a document about her job description, calling the position a “Community Engagement Assistant” and saying her job duties include "assist in the coordination and organization of events attended by the prosecutor and/or staff from the office."
In social media posts, Jane appears to accompany Bell to a number of events.
We checked his previous campaign finance records, and she was paid thousands of dollars as a campaign worker during the election.
“This is a patronage hire for no apparent purpose,” said the whistleblower.
Her internship, now more eight months long, also doesn't seem to have a defined time.
Her job, though, is allowed under county rules, according to the Department of Personnel.
Interns in the county are hired solely at the discretion of the department head. They do not need to be enrolled in school or earning credits.
Their job can even last for years, so long as they don't work more than 1,040 hours annually.
Some now argue that's ripe for abuse.
“What’s to stop another department head or elected official from just bringing in a friend of the family and paying them a good chunk of money just to hang around,” said the whistleblower.
News 4 took the issue of paid interns to county leaders. Councilmember Ernie Trakas says it’s an issue that needs to be looked into.
“I didn't know about it, but certainly I think its fair game now, not just there, but to look at any other departments that have paid interns. These are all great questions,” Trakas said.
News 4 also reached out to the employee in question, but did not hear back.
There have been other paid interns in the county recently in the IT and Parks and Recreation Departments.
But the heads of those departments told us the interns only work for a defined period of time, like a semester, and often for school credit or experience in their future fields.