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Sheriff preservation initiative comes up short for Nov. 4 ballot

A petition drive may have come up short to place a charter amendment before St. Charles County voters to vote again this November on changing law enforcement in the county’s unincorporated area.

And that has Jeri Zerr, the coordinator for the petition group, upset with the county Election Authority about petition signature requirements.

Zerr’s group, the St. Charles County Sheriff Preservation Initiative, mounted a petition drive to place an amendment on the ballot, saying ballot language on a measure approved in 2012 was confusing.

That year, county voters approved establishing a new county police department and procedures for choosing a new head county law enforcement officer, as well as changing the duties of the county sheriff.

Zerr told the County Commission at their Aug. 11 meeting that the election authority gave her group different and varied numbers making it difficult to determine how many signatures they needed.

“St. Charles County cannot give us a number,” she said.

Earlier this month, the group turned in 8,500 to 9,000 signatures to the authority, a number that is short of requirements to place the amendment on the November ballot.

County Election Authority Director Richard Chrismer said proposed charter amendments need the signatures of registered voters equal to 10 percent of the total vote for governor. The total countywide vote for governor was 183,490 in 2012, with 10 percent equaling about 18,349 votes.

Chrismer said his office has worked with the group and others involved with the petition drive. The review of petitions found about 12 percent of the signatures was not from registered voters, which is about what is expected on petition drives, he said.

Zerr said the authority doesn’t have gubernatorial vote totals for each district, and the vote totals for individual council districts that the group has been given have changed in the last year.

“There a huge problem, a discrepancy between the county charter and how the election authority is recording ballots cast,” Zerr told the county commission.

She said in a later interview that the process seems to make it impossible for residents to organize successful petition drives. She said she is awaiting information from the county and didn’t rule out the possibility of legal action. The deadline for placing issues on the November ballot is Aug. 27.

Zerr and other residents favoring the amendment say an elected chief law enforcement officer is more accountable to county residents. The measure approved by voters in 2012 would shift most law enforcement responsibilities to a new police department starting in January of 2015.

The county’s chief law enforcement officer would be chosen by the county executive and approved by the county. An elected sheriff would be in charge of transporting prisoners, court security and process serving.

The county already may have an elected sheriff, who would replace Sheriff Tom Neer, who supported changing the sheriff’s department. Scott Lewis, the police chief and city administrator in Cottleville, won a four-way primary race to be the Republican nominee. There were no Democrats who filed for the office.

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