Last week, Elbert Walton Jr. uttered lines even Yogi Berra might be proud of: “You don’t have the right to go into public places. Public places are not public. They’re private.”
A Wednesday Post-Dispatch editorial laid into Elbert Walton for trying to keep residents out of the (public) Normandy Fire District board meetings. They complain too much and too loudly. Walton plans to hire an off duty County cop to arrest any residents who fail to exhibit all the decorum he deems proper.
And what do these impolite residents have to kvetch about?
As Elizabethe Holland of the Post-Dispatch has reported, in his first six months as the district’s attorney, Mr. Walton billed Northeast taxpayers for $76,671 in legal fees. That was six times more than his predecessor billed in an average year. Even by the loosey-goosey standards that govern many of the area’s dozens of fire districts, Mr. Walton’s bill is steep. The median for legal fees in those districts is $20,000 – per year.
Mr. Walton’s contract with the district – a contract he wrote – also provides him with life, health and accident insurance, along with other fringe benefits. Assuming he keeps billing at his current rate – “There’s a lot more work to be done,” he has said – the district could be spending as much as 7.5 percent of its $2 million annual budget on his legal fees.
And here’s the sweetest part: The more people complain about it, the more money Mr. Walton makes. Anyone who wants to ask the board a question at a district meeting (not counting its unannounced meetings at the Berkeley Steak ‘n Shake) must do so in writing. Mr. Walton then writes a letter in reply, at $200 an hour for his services. If the person making the inquiry has been labeled as disruptive, Mr. Walton writes a letter – at $200 an hour – saying he won’t answer any questions until the person writes the board an apology.
The Post points out that the fire district is getting “hosed.”
I have only one point to add to the Post’s excellent editorial, and that is that Walton runs a large slate of African-American candidates in North St. Louis County in every election. As that area turns increasingly black, the voters there need more black representation, according to Walton and his wife, Rep. Juanita Head Walton.
That’s probably true, and I have no problem with more representative representation. Unless the candidates who get elected see to it that Walton is hired. In that case, they’re not doing their constituents–of whatever race–any favors.