Presiding County Commissioner John Griesheimer, whose current term has been marked by accomplishments and controversy, said this week he plans to seek re-election in 2014.
The Republican said he did not know how he would grade his performance in his current term.
If re-elected, he said it would be his last run for public office because he would like to retire “Lord willing” and do other things.
One More Term
Griesheimer said he wants to complete some business rather than leave the county in a “lurch.”
His No. 1 priority coming into office was economic development. Originally, he wanted to hire an economic development director, but budget restrictions prevented that.
So instead, he focused efforts on implementing enhanced enterprise zones, which he helped create while he was in the Legislature.
The goal of the zones is to draw jobs by giving tax breaks to certain industries and businesses. The county worked with Sullivan to establish a zone, and now St. Clair is in the process of putting one in place.
Griesheimer said he would like to give county employees a pay raise since 2008 was the last time there was an across-the-board increase.
The lack of raises has reportedly caused morale problems, especially since there were select county employees who got raises this year. The commissioners are going to strive to give raises next year, he said.
Griesheimer noted that he came into office in the middle of the recession.
“Obviously, I would like to see the county back on strong economic footing,” he said.
Griesheimer has been in public office since 1982, having served on the Washington City Council until 1988. After that, he served as a First District county commissioner from 1989 to 1992. He then served 18 years in the state Legislature, with eight years in the Senate and 10 years in the House before he reached term limits.
Progress and Controversies
Griesheimer said the commission has been able to move forward on some projects. He noted that the former county prosecutor’s office is being remodeled into the new health department.
That $500,000 project is expected to get under way this summer. It will provide the health department with much more space, he said, and the department will now be in a county-owned building rather than renting space, which is the current situation.
Not all news dealing with the health department has been positive during Griesheimer’s term. The Missourian learned this year that the county failed to inspect all local food establishments in 2011 and 2012.
But Griesheimer said the county is moving forward now and making sure all inspections are done this year.
Griesheimer also is dealing with multiple lawsuits as the head of the county commission.
The American Civil Liberties Union is suing Griesheimer and Franklin County over prayers that he is accused of saying at commission meetings. The lawsuit alleges that the prayers aligned the county with Christianity and therefore violated the U.S. Constitution.
Also, the Brush Creek Sewer District, which is overseen by the three county commissioners, is being sued by the city of Pacific for breach of contract. The suit alleges that the sewer district has routinely exceeded the amount of discharge that is allowed to be sent from the sewer district to the city’s water treatment plant.
Griesheimer and the commission also have faced litigation from county residents who charge that the new county municipal court was illegally created. The county prevailed in circuit court, but the plaintiffs appealed to the Missouri Court of Appeals.
Additionally, the county was sued by the Labadie Environmental Organization over a coal ash landfill that Ameren Missouri is planning to build next to its power plant. The lawsuit alleges that the county commission illegally adopted zoning regulations for the landfill. The county prevailed in circuit court, but the group has now appealed to the state court of appeals.
Bringing the county into the 21st century with better technology has been another highlight of his term, Griesheimer said.
For instance, he noted the county commission has switched to a paperless method of conducting its meetings. Moreover, he said the county has upgraded its website to allow documents voted on at county commission meetings to be posted online for the public to see.
“We have been very transparent in everything we’ve done,” Griesheimer said.
However, while Griesheimer has improved access to public documents he was outspoken against recent legislation that would have strengthened the state’s open meetings law.
The changes proposed in the bill, which failed, would have made it very difficult for the county commissioners to go about their day-to-day administrative tasks, he said.
Getting credit card terminals and online payment of property taxes established is another technology enhancement that has happened during his term, Griesheimer said.
The establishment of the new county municipal court also happened during his time in office, he said. The court allows the revenue from traffic tickets and code violations to stay in the county, Griesheimer added.
Roads and Bridges
The county bridge replacement program is moving ahead, and Griesheimer noted that progress is even being made on getting one of the worst bridges in the state replaced — Bend Road bridge. The county has preliminarily secured funds to acquire right of way for the future bridge replacement project.
The county commission recently stopped the Pave the County program, which was started before Griesheimer took office. The program was halted to focus efforts on maintaining existing roads.
But Griesheimer said he would not mind bringing the program back at some point, although he acknowledged that not all of the roads can be paved. He said he would like to look at the roads that have yet to be paved and prioritize them.
As presiding commissioner, Griesheimer said he’s received a lot encouragement from the public, and that’s motivating him to run again.
“I think good times are ahead of us,” he added.