All candidates have pledged to end no bid contracts, insure that employees are actually showing up for work and publish office finances online. These are basic management issues and given the history of the office are obviously not to be taken for granted. We can assume that any candidate with a chance of winning the August 7th primary, would represent a vast improvement over the status quo.
But we need and deserve more. Brian Wahby's progressive vision, personal dedication to service in St. Louis and knowledge of the challenges and opportunities of the office make him to best candidate for City of St. Louis Treasurer.
It's important to understand what the office does: The Treasurer's Office controls and monitors all the bank accounts of the City and is head of the City's banking systems and parking services operation. The office issues all payroll checks, deposits funds for federal and state taxes, funds for savings bonds and other payroll deductions. The Treasurer is also responsible for making all investments for the City. This includes purchasing, selling and auditing the earnings on these investments as well as ensuring that City funds are safe and secure. The office is responsible roughly 10,000 meters on the street, twenty-nine parking enforcement officers, and the daily operation of city-owned parking facilities. Funds under the supervision and control of the Treasurer exceed $1.5 billion.
With that set of responsibilities, the city needs more than just a competently run office, it needs a truly progressive office that leverages the power of the Treasurer. What should be done with parking revenue? It's incorrect to say that money spent on parking, or money residents and visitors pay to park, is wasted. Wahby's role in creating the Argyle garage in the Central West End and other parking facilities demonstrates his development ability and financial acumen. While "consultants" are maligned by some, no Treasurer will (or should) handle city investments alone. The Treasurer isn't the investor, but a manager of city funds. Wahby has shown that he can manage individuals as well as complex processes.
As head of the city's Democratic party organization since 2004, Brian was instrumental in putting together the bid to host the 2012 Democratic National Convention. It was a close call and by all accounts, St. Louis represented itself well, even though we were passed over for Charlotte in the end. Brian was central to that effort because he's been in the trenches for years, contributing the energy, time and ideas needed to support progessive candidates for a wide variety of posts. It's likely past time that he be one of those candidates.
Tishura Jones is clearly a very capable politician and I laud her desire to help city residents become financially literate and craft family budgets, but that should not be a primary role for the next City of St. Louis Treasurer. It's also unfortunate that she remarked at the recent candidate forum, as reported by the Post-Dispatch, "I think the treasurer's office focuses too much on parking. I'm running for treasurer, not parking attendant." Until the office changes, parking is no small part of the office, and an area that requires enthusiasm for change, not dismissiveness. The St. Louis American, in endorsing Jones, encourages her "to use this citywide seat to launch her to a more important citywide office." That's not the type of Treasurer the city needs.
The American is wise, however, to point out that the Post-Dispatch's endorsement of Fred Wessels conflates his long time complaining about the office and being able to substantively change the office. Larry Williams has been Treasurer for 31 years, and until recently, seemingly unaffected by the criticism. If elected, "fiscal hawk" Wessels, may prove to be a capable manager of the office, but will he use the office to better St. Louis, advancing a progressive vision for the city? He would likely say no, and it's easy to agree.
It's odd, that in endorsing Wessels, the Post-Dispatch concludes that Jones doesn't have the experience to run the Treasurer's Office, she does. Similarly, they conclude that Alderman Jeffrey Boyd "needs more seasoning at City Hall." How can nine years as an alderman (and an MBA and 23 years of military service) require more seasoning? When any city office comes to require more experience than that, we're all in trouble. Still, Boyd's platform focused on competent management leaves one wanting.
I've also been impressed with Brian's openness and willingness to discuss big issues in St. Louis on a personal level. That type of interaction will be expected, if not demanded, if he is to hold the office. Of course Brian's also worked in the Treasurer's Office. Those happy to frame that experience as a negative, fail to recognize its value. It's impossible to imagine Brian hiding from news cameras, or a constituent. And that's not a backhanded compliment, it's a recognition that he seems to gain energy from interacting with the city and its people. A Treasurer engaged with the city and its residents would be a welcome change.
Simply put, Brian has a big vision for St. Louis. He has the greatest upside for the city. When other candidates complained that Wahby, as chair of the Central Democratic Committee in the city controlled access to the party's Voter Action Network (VAN), Brian offered the Post-Dispatch the only appropriate response, "I don't need to game the system to win this race. I'm going to win this race on my merits." Of course, we do not yet know if he's going to win, but based on his merits, he should.