Wessels running for treasurer, regardless of incumbent's intentions
St. Louis Alderman Fred Wessels, D-13th Ward, says he's running for city treasurer regardless of whether incumbent Larry Williams runs for re-election (as he declared earlier), or if city Democratic Party chairman Brian Wahby jumps in.
Wessels (right) asserted that Wahby, a former Williams staffer, would be "part of the problem, not the solution'' to straighten out an office that Wessels contends is ineptly run -- at a huge cost to city taxpayers.
Wahby, who admits contemplating a candidacy, replied that his knowledge of the operations in the treasurer's office would allow him to tackle the problems swiftly. "I know how the treasurer's department is structured. I know why it doesn't work. That's why I am not there anymore," Wahby said. "I can hit the ground running; I can make significant and immediate changes."
Wessels contended that Wahby could have tackled such problems years ago and cited his payments from Williams as a consultant after leaving the office as a full-time employee.
In any case, Wessels said that if he's elected, one of his first tasks will be to find all the "ghost employees" that he suspects are on the treasurer's payroll but do no work.
Wessels has been a critic of Williams' operation for years, even before the latest uproar over an employee facing federal charges for allegedly stealing $250,000 from a defunct charter school. Authorities said that Fred Robinson also was on the treasurer's payroll for years, even though he apparently never showed up for work.
Wessels said that the treasurer's office was the only city department that doesn't provide a list of its workers, or a table of organization, to the Board of Aldermen, which must annually approve the office's budget.
"Am I surprised that (Williams) had 'ghost employees'? No," Wessels said. "Over the years, you'd hear rumors of ghost employees, and they were always in the parking division."
Wessels, 65, has been an alderman for 26 years. He also has been in health-care management for almost 40 years and now is executive director of the St. Louis Peregrine Society Inc., a not-for-profit home health-care agency serving cancer patients.
Wessels says he's running mainly because of the financial mismanagement he's seen in the treasurer's office. He pointed to the 2008 state audit that faulted the treasurer's office for its handling of more than $330 million in bank accounts and investments. The audit also questioned why close to a quarter of the office's 200 employees were related.
The treasurer's office oversees the city's parking meters and pay parking garages, which take in close to $18 million a year.
Yet, the city general-revenue budget sees very little of that money, Wessels said. "I think it's scandalous, and that's why I'm running."
Wahby, meanwhile, has yet to decide whether to run. Wessels expects other candidates to also jump in -- even if Williams sticks with his declaration to seek to keep the job he's held since 1981.
Contact Beacon political reporter Jo Mannies.