BY PAUL HAMPEL • firstname.lastname@example.org > 314-727-6234 | Posted: Monday, July 25, 2011 12:30 am
CLAYTON • Despite a hiring freeze on most of St. Louis County government, four more people with backgrounds in Democratic politics have recently gotten jobs there.
Three were hired by the new county assessor, Jake Zimmerman, a Democrat. The fourth, hired by the St. Louis County Economic Council, had been a field director in Zimmerman's campaign last spring.
The latest payroll additions come within months of the county's hiring of several other people with strong Democratic connections, including the previously reported hiring of County Executive Charlie Dooley's former campaign spokeswoman as well as the son of Dooley's campaign treasurer and manager.
The assessor's office and the Economic Council are exempt from the hiring freeze, enacted three years ago by Dooley.
However, Zimmerman and an Economic Council official say they believe in the freeze and abide by it, except in cases where hires are essential.
On July 11, Zimmerman hired Sara Howard as deputy assessor and spokeswoman at an annual salary of $88,999. Howard, 36, had been a spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis.
Last week, Zimmerman, a former state representative, hired Anna Gourdin, 28, a former member of his legislative staff, and Chalana Oliver, 30, who had been political director of his campaign.
Oliver, a lawyer, will be the assessment department's "director of policy review and community engagement." Gourdin will be its "constituent services manager."
Oliver's annual salary will be $46,760; Gourdin's will be $36,000.
Zimmerman, who in April became the county's first elected assessor in more than 50 years, promised during his campaign that he would not staff his office with political cronies.
Zimmerman asserted in an interview last week that the new hires do not violate that vow.
"As I said when I was running, I did not get into public service in order to give jobs to my buddies," he said. "I do not have enough of a budget that I can waste money on do-nothing jobs and political make-work."
He said he followed the county's requirement for hiring merit employees by posting the jobs in several newspapers and interviewing numerous candidates.
"Like any other employer, if you give me qualified candidates and one of them has worked for me before and I have knowledge of their ethics and what they are capable of doing, that will be someone that I'm biased in favor of," he said.
As assessor, Zimmerman's job is to determine the value of each taxable property in the county. The county's many taxing entities use that information to determine tax rates.
None of the new hires has any experience in assessments. But Zimmerman said skills in customer service were what he was seeking.
"We have 170 people on this staff who are pretty good at looking at houses and determining their values, but there has never been in anyone's recent memory an organized, systematic way to figure out how we serve the external customers," he said.
Zimmerman, who has denied speculation by others that he aspires to higher elected office, said the new hires will not be involved in politics.
"There's a pretty strict policy in terms of what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior outside the office," he said. "And I'm a big fan of following the rules."
ECONOMIC COUNCIL JOB
The county's fourth recent hire, Jonathan Boesch, joined the Economic Council six weeks ago as its new "assistant project manager" in the south St. Louis County area. His annual salary is $50,200.
The council is the economic development arm of the county.
Boesch, 35, had been field director for the Zimmerman campaign. Before that, he had worked as a field director for Dooley's re-election campaign.
Boesch has a doctoral degree in political science from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. His most recent job outside the political sphere was as a bartender at Cicero's in University City from 2001 to 2009.
Boesch was hired by Andrew Ruben, head of the Economic Council's real estate division.
Ruben said Boesch would work with another council employee in the Lemay area.
"He'll be helping to process large amounts of grant money from River City Casino revenue that is committed to that area," Ruben said.
Ruben, like Zimmerman, said he abides by the freeze except in the case of an essential hire.
Ruben said the job had been posted and Boesch was chosen from several candidates partly based on a résumé that showed strong computer skills.
The new hires are among various others with Democratic connections to land county government jobs recently despite the hiring freeze.
In January, a Dooley campaign volunteer, Mike Temporiti, was hired to be the county's abatement compliance officer in the Revenue Department. The position was created just for Temporiti. He is the son of John Temporiti, Dooley's longtime campaign treasurer and manager and former chief of staff.
In February, Dooley's campaign spokeswoman, Katy Jamboretz, was hired as the Economic Council's vice president of marketing and communications.
Two other volunteers from Dooley's campaign also have recently been hired by the county.
Bill Ray got a patronage job in January as a "citizen advocate" in the health department. And former state Sen. Rita Heard Days got another patronage job, as an administrative assistant to Dooley. Days has since been hired as the new Democratic director of the county Election Board.
County Councilman Greg Quinn, R-Chesterfield, said he doubted assertions that politics did not factor into the latest hirings.
"With regard to the hiring by the assessor, these new people are essentially Democratic Party political operatives," Quinn said. "I was hoping that an elected assessor would help people receive fair assessments. But it just seems like this is politics as usual."
As to Boesch's hiring, Quinn said, "I think the Economic Council should stop being used as a source for jobs by campaign workers and should be used to create jobs in St. Louis County."
Dooley instituted the hiring freeze three years ago. But because the assessor's division is led by an elected official, just like county Prosecuting Attorney Robert P. McCulloch's department, it is not subject to Dooley's rules.
The Economic Council is an independent, 501(c)4 'social welfare" organization that falls outside Dooley's purview, though he does appoint its board members.
Zimmerman said that while the county's hiring freeze did not apply to his department, he had acted as if it did.
"In light of the current economic conditions, I felt it was the right thing to do to go through the standard process that any department director would go through, and I typed out a justification for why these positions were essential," he said.
Ruben said that Boesch was an essential hire that fell within the spirit of the freeze.
"I think that, practically, we have essentially followed the pay freeze," he said. "Did we have to? No, but the hiring freeze is good practice and justified by the economy and the budget."