In a surprise move by board members Wednesday, Franklin County Presiding Commissioner John Griesheimer was named the chairman of the East-West Gateway Council of Governments for 2017.

“I didn’t plan on it,” Griesheimer said. “It’s a big honor. I didn’t think it would ever happen.”

Each year the council, which is made up of eight counties in the St. Louis metro area, names its president from the board members and usually switches back and forth from Missouri to Illinois every year.

Griesheimer said the council was supposed to be chaired by a representative from Illinois this year, but former Madison County chairman Alan Dunstun, who was vice chair, did not win re-election to office.

Since the position was declined by new Madison County board chairman Kurt Prenzler, the gavel then passed to St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, who himself has only been in office since early 2015, and also passed on the position until 2018.

“By the chain of succession, it came down to me,” Griesheimer said. “I usually defer to St. Louis City and County since they are the population centers, but basically there were too many new people who are still learning their jobs. This was basically the perfect storm.”

During a discussion held by the East-West Gateway board members before the meeting, it was decided Missouri will continue to hold the chair and the gavel was passed to Griesheimer from Jefferson County executive Ken Waller.

This is the first time the East-West Gateway board has been led by a Franklin County representative since 2010, when then presiding commissioner Ed Hillhouse served as chairman, before going on to be the group’s executive director.

Griesheimer said his main duties as chairman will be to preside at the monthly meetings and he will not have any additional influence on ongoing discussion or decisions about upcoming road projects in the area.

Another major function will be to communicate with state and federal legislators about ongoing issues in the eight-county area represented by the group.

These include the city of St. Louis; Jefferson, Franklin, St. Charles and St. Louis counties in Missouri; Madison, Monroe and St. Clair counties in Illinois.

Together, these major jurisdictions serve 2.48 million residents, more than 90 percent of the population and employment base of the larger metropolitan St. Louis area.

The East-West Gateway Council of Governments was established in 1965.