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The St Louis Contrarian

Providing Independent and Intelligent Insight on St. Louis Public Policy Issues

Archive for the category “st louis county”

Metrolink Safety

One of the biggest problems affecting Metrolink safety is that police in the various jurisdictions along the routes have radios with different frequencies. The county taxpayers had approved a small sales tax increase to address this issue. The money is there but the issue remains unresolved. Why? Written by Paul Dribin

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Message to Stenger

An excellent column by Tony Messenger in the Post offering some suggestions for County Executive Stenger as he will begin another term with both the Council and Prosecuting Attorney lined up against him. If Stenger operated at all honestly his job would be easy. Written by Paul Dribin.

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Two years ago, Sam Page asked me for a favor.

We had been talking for a couple of weeks about his work behind the scenes to help St. Louis County create a prescription drug monitoring program to fight the opioid epidemic. As a physician and state lawmaker, Page had worked extensively on the issue, but he was stymied by another physician-lawmaker, Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, who consistently protected Missouri’s status as the only state in the nation without such a program.

So Page, the chairman of the St. Louis County Council, with the help of the medical community and full support of his then-ally, St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, helped set St. Louis County up to operate its own program, which has turned into a de facto state monitoring program, with more than half of the state’s population now covered by it.

I planned to break the news ahead of Stenger’s planned announcement, and Page asked me not to. The county executive wanted the headline, Page said, and he wanted him to have it.

So I waited. Stenger got his headline.

And it probably contributed to his win Tuesday, narrowly holding on to his seat by defeating challenger Mark Mantovani by around 1,000 votes. The election hasn’t been certified yet as there are still ballots being tallied. Stenger will face Republican Paul Berry, III, and Libertarian Nick Kasoff in November, but neither are expected to be well-funded candidates. So unless Mantovani or the election board find any voting oddities, Stenger wins.

By winning, though, the county executive may have actually lost. And the opioid issue is a perfect example of why.

A politician who doesn’t care about credit builds coalitions.

Stenger picks fights.

He and Page would soon be at odds over everything, mostly because the County Council chairman started to discover that Stenger was deceiving the council — on a plan to bump up Prosecutor Robert McCulloch’s pension, on a proposal to sell part of Creve Coeur Lake Memorial Park, on a bridge to nowhere, and on a scheme to move millions of dollars in county office leases to property owned by the county executive’s top donor.

Page asked questions and got shut out.

The pattern played out in county offices, too, as department head after department head quit or was forced out after they asked questions or stood up for good public policy.

In winning, Stenger said voters sent a message:

“Today’s victory shows that voters believe we are moving St. Louis County in the right direction,” he said Tuesday night.

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Seen another way, voters left Stenger all alone on an island.

Challenger Lisa Clancy defeated Councilman Pat Dolan, Stenger’s last reliable ally on a council that now questions his every move. Voters approved at least one proposition meant to shift some balance of power away from Stenger and to the council, as a check to his power.

And voters overwhelmingly defeated McCulloch, perhaps Stenger’s most important supporter, who had used his office to go after Councilman Ernie Trakas when he questioned the county executive, and had refused to investigate Stenger when council investigations raised serious questions about the improper influence of donors or Sunshine Law violations.

Wesley Bell, who will become the new prosecuting attorney, might be more receptive to investigating the office of the county executive. So Stenger’s next four years, if he lasts that long, might be more uncomfortable than the first.

It didn’t have to be this way. And it still doesn’t.

If Stenger wants to leverage his narrow victory into a real opportunity for success, a path forward exists.

He could call Attorney General Josh Hawley tomorrow and commit to no more Sunshine Law violations and find a way to make that lawsuit go away.

He could accept the council’s decision to force new appointments to the Port Authority and stop trying to use that body as his personal piggy bank to help select donors.

He could commit to working on consensus with the council when it comes to developing policy priorities and awarding contracts and making appointments to boards.

He could follow Mantovani’s lead and commit to not accepting donations from companies seeking contracts with the county.

And he could actually start showing up at council meetings and rebuilding relationships with the body that voters expect him to work with to manage taxpayer dollars wisely.

This path forward is not unknown to Stenger. It’s the same one he suggested for the nephew of a major donor in the fall of 2015 when he wrote a letter to a federal judge and asked for leniency in sentencing for a convicted drug dealer:

“(He) understands and accepts full responsibility for his actions,” Stenger wrote at the time, “but also is aware that he must disassociate himself from those who would participate in illegal activity. He has made every effort to move forward in a positive way.”

Strong words. Stenger could take them to heart. Or not.


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Messenger: Last-minute dark money from Sinquefield seeks to fool St. Louis County voters

Obscure fire committee appears again to help county executive consolidate power.

St. Louis American Article About the Significance of Bell Win

Elections are usually about the merits of individual candidates, but every now and then they’re about something more. Zeitgeist is a German word that means “spirit of the times.” It’s regularly used to describe what in a larger sense may be going on culturally, intellectually or politically. There are events and phenomena that one invokes as representative of a defined Zeitgeist.

One of the burning questions for people whose political activism was forged in the sixties is whether the progressive moment we are currently witnessing is a sixties déjà vu, or is seeing a relationship between Black Lives Matter, MeToo, Never Again and the sixties a case of hope triumphing over experience? Just as the Black Power and the Anti-War movements were examples of the sixties Zeitgeist, we believe Black Lives Matter, MeToo and Never Again will come to be seen as examples of the Zeitgeist of this generation.

It’s impossible to know how the August 7 Democratic Primary will be considered in the larger scope of history, but today it feels like a major paradigm shift for the St. Louis region generally and the black community specifically. August 7 has permanently changed St. Louis politics in the way the August 9, 2014 police killing of Michael Brown and its aftermath forever changed the St Louis region. In fact, you cannot understand what happened politically on August 7 outside of the context of August 9.

First, we congratulate Wesley Bell on his historic victory and commend him on a very well executed campaign. We judge candidates in a campaign like we judge young basketball players during a season: Are they learning, evolving, getting better? Wesley Bell, starting as a long-shot but closing like a sure-shot, did all three of those. The candidate who claimed the mantle of victory was not the candidate that filed for office in February. We expect this impressive growth to continue as this inexperienced prosecutor takes office and begins to make some of the changes he has promised us.

We also commend the activist community, not only for providing bodies, energy and legitimacy to the Bell campaign, but for their political maturity that made this victory possible. In order to make progress in the political system, you have to resist the urge to make the perfect the enemy of the good. When the best is not available, but better is, you take better and move the chains. As The Rolling Stones sing, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find you get what you need!” The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri was especially damaging to McCulloch in educating the community about his record as a prosecutor in an unprecedented public education campaign.

Also, the larger, older African-American community of St. Louis County should be commended for a genuine willingness to pass the baton to a new generation by embracing Bell’s candidacy. For a community to remain healthy and strong, it must always have people willing to serve, but it also needs people who recognize when their service is no longer required and graciously accept the role of supporter. Bell’s absence of a primary challenger was a testament to restraint from many older, more seasoned attorneys who might have liked their chances.

August 7 also showed that the white community of St. Louis County in 2018 does not have the political will of the white community of 2014. Something happened. We doubted Bell when he told us that he was finding support among white voters, but there are not enough black voters to elect Bell as county prosecutor. For Bell to beat McCulloch 103,018 votes (56.62 percent) to 78,934 votes (43.38) in a county whose population is less than 25 percent black, clearly a critical number of white voters decided they have had enough of McCulloch’s tough (i.e., ineffective) on crime approach and his unapologetic arrogance in the face of a worsening crime crisis and over-incarceration. While Michael Brown’s death was a tragedy, how the aftermath of that tragedy was handled was an unmitigated disaster from which the region is yet to recover. Clearly, many county voters are ready to move on.

More than any other public official, Bob McCulloch became St. Louis’ official face for Ferguson. It was McCulloch who made the August 7 primary worthy of the attention of the New York Times the day before the election. White voters in St. Louis County realized they couldn’t restore the county’s reputation and their good name as long as McCulloch was their prosecutor. They moved on.

Oppressed people – the weak, the powerless, the disenfranchised – are taught from an early age about the moral superiority of forgiving those who have been responsible for their oppression. But in politics, the players – and voters – live by the brutal law of payback. We owed McCulloch, and we settled the score. There is nothing wrong with revenge, as long as it advances your interest. By the way, it’s best served cold. Enjoy.

St. Louis Area Elections

To use a cliche, there was a sea change as a result of the elections in St. Louis County. The biggest upset was Wesley Bell defeating Robert McCullough for County Prosecutor. McCullough had been in the office a long time and appeared invincible. Steve Stenger barely won reelection over a little known and under funded opponent. Lisa Clancy, a political newcomer won the one council seat that had been loyal to Stenger.

Some observations. Bell’s win was a result of his talent and hard work and a desire on the part of voters for change. Mr. Bell who is African American would not have won without the support of a large number of white voters. Many people I know want to see significant changes in the criminal justice system, ending of cash bail for non violent crimes, and a reform of the municipal court process. The Ferguson decision also did not sit well with many people. I believe that McCullough made the right legal decision in that case but failed the public relations and political battle.

A second effect was the corruption of Steve Stenger. A strong candidate would have defeated Stenger. McCullough was joined at the hip to Stenger. Clancy won on an anti Stenger platform. It is very sad the Republicans have not fielded a strong candidate to run against Stenger in November. Written by Paul Dribin

THE CITY OF ST. LOUIS REENTERING ST. LOUIS COUNTY – Cities Strong

THE CITY OF ST. LOUIS REENTERING ST. LOUIS COUNTY – Cities Strong
— Read on citiesstrong.com/hello-world-4/

A challenging article by Terry Jones in the difficulties of St Louis City joining the county

County Economic Development Partnership Defies County Council

The St. Louis County Economic Development Partnership did not show up for hearings looking into questionable contracting practices and favoritism. Interestingly, the FBI may be involved in investigations.

I have written before about what a cesspool this organization is. The Post-Dispatch pointed out that a friend of Stenger’s was pushed on the Lemay Housing Partnership even though he was a convicted felon. This whole story is getting quite interesting. Attached is a copy of the Post article. Written by Paul Dribin

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CLAYTON • Members of the St. Louis County Council said Tuesday they may issue subpoenas in their investigation of the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership and St. Louis County Port Authority, after representatives of those groups did not show up Tuesday afternoon for the council’s ethics hearing.

And two members of the council suggested in an open meeting that the federal government may be looking into the agencies, as well.

The council has been investigating the agencies’ procurement policies and real estate transactions after Post-Dispatch stories raising questions about their contracting procedures. The Port Authority controls a significant pot of money derived from annual lease payments of some $5 million from the River City Casino in Lemay. It is staffed by the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership.

Council members Ernie Trakas and Sam Page said in comments during the meeting that each had been told by sources that about two weeks ago, Sheila Sweeney, the partnership’s chief executive officer, enlisted county police officers to check out a vehicle tailing her.

“When St. Louis County police stopped the subject vehicle, they were advised that the occupants were, in fact, federal agents,” Trakas said. Page said he’d heard the same thing.

Pressed by several reporters after the meeting, neither Trakas nor Page would reveal their sources. Each said he had just one source; Page said he did not think they were the same person. Trakas said his source was “impeccable” but that he had “assured the person who told me that his identity was safe with me.” Asked how close his source was to the information, Trakas said he was “not going to go there.”

In a brief interview as he left a meeting in progress, County Executive Steve Stenger said about Trakas’ claim: “I don’t think so. I don’t think that’s the case. I think we would have heard about that. I don’t think that’s correct.”

Cordell Whitlock, a Stenger spokesman, noted that his boss is facing a Democratic primary race against challenger Mark Mantovani on Aug. 7. He said it was “highly irresponsible two weeks before an election for (Trakas) to just throw that out there and throw Sheila under the bus like that.”

Neither Sweeney nor the partnership’s spokeswoman, Katy Jamboretz, could be reached for comment. U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen did not respond to a text request for comment.

The allegations of a federal probe came at the council’s regular meeting, hours after the council’s ethics committee had held its second hearing into the partnership and port. The committee had invited six members of the port authority to testify.

One of those board members, Greg Hayden, told the Post-Dispatch last week that he had agreed to testify about $50,000 the port gave to a nonprofit housing organization in Lemay to hire a friend of Stenger for a marketing contract. But Hayden didn’t show, and in a brief phone call, directed a reporter to his attorney, Jim Wyrsch, who declined to comment.

The rest of the Port Authority got lawyers, too. Charles W. Hatfield, with Stinson Leonard Street, wrote a letter on Friday to Trakas, the ethics committee chairman, saying the port’s six board members had other commitments, and needed “more clarity” about the investigation’s purpose. An inquiry into the port’s “operations and practices” would be “extremely broad,” Hatfield wrote.

Hatfield’s colleague, Andrew Scavotto, appeared at the ethics hearing and told council members that the Port Authority wanted to talk to the council in an “appropriate forum.”

Several council members responded that any discussion should be held in public.

“The committee invited your clients, sir, to appear,” Trakas told Scavotto. “It’s my understanding based on Mr. Hatfield’s letter that your advice was for them not to appear. … I think this is an appropriate forum, sir. I think you and your firm are the only ones that don’t.”

The Post-Dispatch reported last week that after the Lemay Housing Partnership saw its funding cut by two-thirds in 2016, its board chairman met with Hayden and an assistant to Stenger. Stenger recommended the organization hire the husband of his former legislative aide, even though he had just finished probation for two counts of stealing from a campaign.

The council has also said it wants to know more about a land deal with Stenger donors in Wellston, the failed effort to build a St. Louis Blues practice facility in Creve Coeur Lake Park, and land transfers for a police substation in south St. Louis County.

Page said he is also seeking records related to a $422,000 infrastructure consulting contract the Port Authority awarded to Accenture, a project that also paid out $50,000 in associated legal fees to the law firm of Stenger donor Bob Blitz.

Whether the port authority board even exists remained an open question on Tuesday. Last week, the council voted 6-1 to override a Stenger veto on a bill requiring the removal of any member of the county {span id=”0.8800033719184834” class=”currentHitHighlight”}port {span id=”0.5504816958906129” class=”highlight”} authority whose term has expired. That would be all six of the members, but Stenger said the charter allows board members to retain their seats until replacements are appointed.

On Tuesday, Page called for legislation that would allow the County Council to name its own port board members.


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The Future of Urban Public Transportation

The New York Times last week had an article which described the discussions being held by transportation planners about the future of urban transit. Many are beginning to adhere to my view that we should think about getting away from light rail and utilizing Uber or self driving cars. Critics say we don’t know when self driving cars will be readily available.

I am please to see there is a serious discussion about this subject. For most communities, light rail is simply too expensive and may not end up going where it needs to. More people are working at home and need transportation to travel considerable distances during the work day. Trains are also very expensive to maintain.

I would recommend that public transit companies partner with organizations such as Uber and Lyft or buy self driving cars when available rather than invest in expensive and obsolete rail systems. Written by Paul Dribin

Prohibit and enforce bans on income discrimination | Business News | stlamerican.com

“Your money is no good here.” It may sound like a line spoken by the barkeeper in an old-timey Western movie.
— Read on www.stlamerican.com/content/tncms/live/

A great article by leadership of Empower Missouri about housing discrimination based upon source of income. If people can pay rent, have decent credit, and are good tenants, that is all that should matter. Written by Paul Dribin

Metro Could Have Saved Money if St. Louis County Had Cooperated

The outgoing head of Metro has stated that the agency could have saved significant sums of money by refinancing its’ bonds. County Executive Stenger was unresponsive to this request and the opportunity has been lost. This of course is very disappointing and a sign of the difunctional nature of our governments. Written by Paul Dribin

Loop Trolley Again

The Post wrote yesterday that there is still not a definite date for the start of the Loop Trolley. This is not a surprise. Furthermore when it does begin it will operate only from Thursday to Sunday from noon to 6pm. Does this sound like a winning program? (By the way last week I almost ran into a trolley when I was trying to turn right onto Lindell at the History Museum.). Written by Paul Dribin

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