Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker said Franklin County was blindsided by a few issues in 2019, but he thinks the residents and officials are better off from handling the challenges.
“As I reflect on the year, I’m pleased with where we are today compared to where the county was this time last year,” Brinker said.
One of the biggest and most unexpected issues to challenge county officials was the hepatitis A outbreak in the mid to late summer. The outbreak was the largest in the state of Missouri.
“Historically, we’ve never had to deal with anything like that before,” Brinker said. “We spend so much time preparing and looking forward, but this hit us from the side. You try to plan for the next earthquake or disaster, but then you’re hit with something biological. This was one of the worst public health concerns the county has had in decades.”
He added, although the issue did escalate, the response from county employees was textbook and he is grateful to have the right people in the right places at the right time.
Since many of the hepatitis A victims worked in the food service industry, the county commission passed an ordinance requiring hepatitis A vaccinations for food service employees at all 500 establishments in Franklin County.
“This was a great experience for learning,” Brinker said. “Presented with all of the information, the administration took action we felt was in the best interest of the victims and the taxpayers.”
The sometimes bittersweet relationship between public officials and the media was tested during the hepatitis A crisis. The county attempted to protect the victims and their employers and the effect the news would have on other businesses and the opinion of the county as a whole.
Television coverage of the outbreak from St. Louis media outlets painted the county in a bad light, Brinker said. He said he felt the TV media never told the full story of the county.
“The media coverage hurt and helped, but the TV news did the most damage,” Brinker said. “It was news and it needed to be reported, but they only report when the news is bad. I hope to see them come out here when good things happen.”
According to Brinker, one of those good things to happen was the progress made on the adult detention center and 911 complex funded by the half-cent Proposition P sales tax.
“Our first priority as elected officials is the safety of our constituency,” Brinker said. “I’m so thankful for the voter-approved Prop P that will ensure we will be able to keep veteran and experienced law enforcement officers here in Franklin County.”
A new practice implemented at the beginning of 2019 was to hold monthly meetings with the county commission, all other county-elected officials and all county department heads.
The meetings give the officials the opportunity to see how other offices operate and Brinker says they have been beneficial.
“It gives all of the departments the chance to see and hear what each other is doing and make sure everyone is up to speed,” Brinker said. “We may have personality conflicts, but the more we understand the more we can do for the greater good.”
Despite many successes, there were a few items in 2019 which Brinker said he was disappointed about.
After years of committees and studies, one of the biggest steps toward solving the issues in the Highway 47 corridor between Washington and St. Clair was made in the late summer.
All parties involved agreed the main problem area was at the junction of Highway 47 and Highway 50 in Union.
With this in mind the city of Union and Franklin County took the lead and now have a roughly $10.2 million plan in place to construct an expressway, but it relies heavily on state federal and matching local funds.
“I wish the progress on the Highway 47 and 50 project would have advanced quicker,” Brinker said. “There is so much involved and so many moving parts.”
The ongoing opioid epidemic in Franklin County and across the United States, took the lives of dozens of county residents in 2019.
“We still have issues with these dangerous drugs like heroin and other opioids,” Brinker said. “They continue to take the lives of our residents and hurt families. Although it’s getting better, I wish there weren’t any new cases.”
In addition to the toll the epidemic is taking on families, the increased resources needed from law enforcement and first responders has spread personnel thin.
As 2020 begins, Brinker said he hopes to build on the progress of infrastructure and economic development in the county, especially in communities along the Missouri River.
“I would like to see some sort of port authority established,” Brinker said. “We’ve had the new bridge in Washington for a year now, and we need to expand on that infrastructure.”
He added he has growing concerns, as does his Warren County counterpart, Joe Gildehaus, regarding continued flooding on the south side of the river.
“We have a $70 million bridge that has to be closed when it floods,” Brinker said. “This should have been addressed when the bridge was built.”
Brinker added the flooding and bridge closures not only affect Franklin and Warren counties, but are also an issue for residents in St. Charles County because the bridge closures cut off regional trade and transportation.
For county government, 2019 was a transition year with new faces taking over the offices of clerk, collector and prosecuting attorney positions held by their predecessors for decades. It was also Brinker’s first full year as presiding commissioner.
Now, 2020 ushers in another election year that could change the face of county administration and politics.
“Franklin County residents are very savvy,” Brinker said. They make good choices of who they trust to represent them and spend their tax money.”
Longtime Assessor Tom Copeland has already announced his retirement and both the First and Second District commissioner seats are on the ballot, as well as the public administrator, treasurer and municipal judge.