Franklin County Presiding Commissioner John Griesheimer is entering his final year in public office in 2018 and hopes it is an easier go than 2017 has been.
“This has been a tough year and we’ve dealt with things as they’ve come along,” Griesheimer said. “We’ll have to wait and see.”
The year started on a bright point with construction starting on the largest bridge project ever undertaken by Franklin County. The $4.3 million project to replace the Bend Road Bridge over the Meramec River outside Pacific is the largest bridge project ever undertaken by the county.
But, unexpected late spring flooding halted bridge construction and put the county in a state of emergency.
“The floods were the worst part of the year,” Griesheimer said. “We are still dealing with the aftermath.”
Griesheimer added another low point for the year in his opinion was the failure of the general assembly to pass legislation including Franklin County into the Bi-State Development Agency.
For many years, Griesheimer has attempted to get mass transit connected to the county and the inclusion in Bi-State would open that door.
Similar legislation has already been filed for the 2018 legislative session.
The past year wasn’t all doom and gloom, and the county commission did reach several very positive milestones.
One of the biggest positives in Griesheimer’s eyes was the recent contract signed for medical examiner services, and the savings and reduced red tape it will bring to the county.
The need arose when St. Louis University (SLU), which the county had contracted with for more than 30 years, raised the yearly medical examiner rates by $100,000.
Essentially, the county joined forces with Jefferson and St. Charles counties to bypass the middle-man and contract directly with the individual medical examiners and pathologists.
Despite his long and storied career in public service, serving at the city, county and state level, Griesheimer said a great personal honor in 2017 was to serve as the head of the East-West Gateway Council of Governments.
Next year, the gavel will pass to St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger.
With many pending issues on the plates of the county commissioners, none is more pressing that the renovation and expansion of the county jail.
“The biggest problem we have is crime,” Griesheimer said. “There are still lots of issues that are undecided.”
Two weeks ago, the county proposed a half-cent sales tax to fund $30 million in jail upgrades and to supplement law enforcement salaries across the county.
The commission and Sheriff Steve Pelton have enlisted former sheriff Gary Toelke to help educate the public on the need for the new facility and money to keep officers in the county.
The tax referendum will go before voters on the April 2018 ballot.
At the end of 2018, Franklin County will be losing nearly 50 years of leadership experience as three of the top elected officials end their careers of public service.
Beginning Jan. 1, 2019, the offices of presiding commissioner, county clerk and prosecuting attorney will be held by new people for the first time in decades.
Griesheimer, who has never lost an election, was first elected to public office 35 years ago in 1982 when he won a seat on the Washington city council.
After six years he ran and was elected to First District commissioner, where he served one term from 1988 to 1992.
He was first elected to the Missouri House of Representatives in 1992 before term limits were established and served five terms, or 10 years.
When term limits finally did catch up with him, he moved to the other side of the Capitol building and was elected to two terms (2002, 2006) in the Senate, serving a total of eight years.
Griesheimer came back to the county commission in 2010 after serving a total of 18 years in the state Legislature.
Republicans First District Commissioner Tim Brinker and Washington School Board member Trish Mitchell have already thrown their hats in the ring for the presiding commissioner seat.
Griesheimer said he plans to stay out of the election for his successor and will not endorse a candidate.