Jefferson County Port Authority board of directors member Jim Kasten was denied another 3-year term by the county council on December 27. The board voted 5-0 not to approve his reappointment. Kasten is also the Herculaneum city administrator and district 5 representative (Democrat) on the county council (elected in 2014), and it is these roles that were cited by one councilman to explain the no vote.
Councilman Don Bickowski (District 1, GOP) stated at the meeting (video here – see 47:25 mark) that he felt there was a conflict of interest in Kasten holding these multiple roles. He said he also has opposed port board appointments from cities, as he thinks the board should be independent of other governmental jurisdictions. Bickowski cited the case of outgoing councilman Cliff Lane (6th district, Democrat), who he says resigned from the port board when he took office as a councilman in 2010. Lane was one of the no votes on Kasten.
I can see where Bickowski is coming from. Port board members from other jurisdictions could try to steer port development to their area (like, say, Pevely instead of Herculaneum) or otherwise score points for their cities. There is no accusation that Kasten did such a thing, but conflict of interest principles are intended to prevent even the appearance or possibility of a conflict.
Kasten was only narrowly reappointed to the port board in September 2013 for his current term. He was approved by a 4-3 vote, with current council members Bob Boyer, Renee Reuter, and Bickowski voting no, as they did this time around.
When nobody responded to the “all in favor say aye” call, Kasten let out a “you’ve got to be kidding me.” He then stated that “there’s too much ideology on the council, people coming in with set beliefs that can’t be changed or altered, no matter how much evidence to the contrary.” He insisted that he had “never, never” put the council or the port board in a conflict of interest. He went on, forcefully:
I have never, one time, shown you any reason why-I’ve given you a conflict of interest. If there is, I want you to point it out right now! You don’t have any, because all you are is a bunch of ideologues, and I’m fed up with it, and I’m gonna call you out every damn time that I get a chance.
It may be true that he has never shown a conflict. But as I stated above, the issue is of the mere possibility of the existence of conflict. Here’s a definition from Wikipedia:
A conflict of interest is a set of circumstances that creates a risk that professional judgement or actions regarding a primary interest will be unduly influenced by a secondary interest.
See, it says “a risk.” In this case, it is Kasten’s position in the governing structure of three different entities. Kasten’s actions don’t have to be unduly influenced; the possibility just has to be there. It’s like when Dianne Critchlow and her minions engineered the hiring of a board member’s daughter-in-law to be food service director at the Fox district, or gave a scholarship to the child of a school board member. Whether those board members were stooges to Critchlow out of stupidity or as part of a quid pro quo doesn’t matter; the fact is that there was a possibility of undue influence, and those moves should not have been allowed. (This is not to compare Kasten to Critchlow.)
So now County Executive Ken Waller will have to find someone else to fill Kasten’s spot on the port board. There was another port board dustup in 2013 when Dan Govero and Steve Markus were denied reappointment to the board, with the council citing slow progress from the board. Kasten appeared at a subsequent council meeting to beseech the council to undo that decision, which they did not.