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The St Louis Contrarian

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

Archive for the tag “st louis post dispatch”

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.

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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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Investigation of St. Louis County Economic Council

www.stltoday.com/business/local/county-council-launches-ethics-probe-of-economic-development-partnership-port/article_efc116c2-c165-5919-bb1a-40da4f3b7a46.html

I am happy to see this investigation. I have been harping on the crooked nature of this organization for some time. With other scandals brewing it was not getting enough attention. Written by Paul Dribin

Editorial on Airport Privatization

www.stltoday.com/opinion/editorial/editorial-preapproved-more-reasons-to-believe-the-fix-is-in/article_f405859b-c11a-581d-ae16-292ce41be444.html

A good editorial form the Post-Dispatch.

North side St.Louis Blight

www.stltoday.com/news/local/metro/four-years-after-michael-brown-was-killed-ferguson-neighborhood-still/article_3ef83c33-eb08-5016-9a83-2b7f7529355c.html

An article from Post about terrible pile of debris left from site preparation work. It shows that once again people in central city are not taken seriously

Ferguson

www.stltoday.com/news/local/metro/four-years-after-michael-brown-was-killed-ferguson-neighborhood-still/article_3ef83c33-eb08-5016-9a83-2b7f7529355c.html

This article discussed the lack of improvement in the part of Ferguson where Michael Brown was killed.

More McKee Stuff

www.stltoday.com/business/local/after-mckee-revelations-can-city-hall-and-the-developer-work/article_3de8a615-bd0d-5a01-a5a2-29dfca791a27.html

A good article from Post about latest in McKee developments in north St. Louis. It sure appears his empire is a house of cards ready to fall.

A Decline in Ticketing Fines

The St. Louis Post Dispatch published an interesting article last weekend about the decline in ticketing in all communities in the St. Louis region. Police departments are taking the position that they have better things to do with their time than ticket drivers. Revenue from tickets has declined significantly. This is mostly good, makes sense, and most important unburdens low income people and many people of color of being thrown in jail for minor offenses.

The question that puzzles me is how do we deal with people who violate the law if there are not fines. People who drive without insurance, or with cars that are unsafe can hurt other people. I do not have a solution. Written by Paul Dribin

Metrolink Again

The light rail system in St. Louis, Metrolink is just too easy of a target. Ridership on the system is down and crime is up. The Post Dispatch reported on its editorial page that there is still not a common approach to policing the trains, and that the police of the 3 entities responsible for policing cannot communicate with each other by radio. Metro which runs the trains and the St. Louis County police point the finger at each other for the problems. All of this and Metro wants to expand the system. Go figure. Written by Paul Dribin

St Louis Moves Ahead on Property Demolition

The Post contained a good but overly long article on demolition in St Louis. According to the article there are about 7000 properties in need of demolition. The city is more aggressively tackling the problem which is a major priority of Mayor Krewson.

I say congratulations. This is a step in the right direction. I have seen neighborhoods suffer for years due to the prescience of abandoned properties. The real problem again, is the political system in St. Louis in which the alderman must approve every tear down. Some have refused to approve any out of a mistaken notion that someone will return and rehab the property.

Written by Paul Dribin

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