The St Louis Contrarian

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

Archive for the tag “st louis post dispatch”

Development Subsidies in St. Louis

The Post-Dispatch today headlined an article which stated that the City of St. Louis gave away through TIFs and tax abatement $30 million instead of $17 million. This article is not written to question the error but the huge amount of subsidies St. Louis provides to developers. I know the city is not by itself always a strong market, but the level of subsidies appears out of whack.

There is not enough targeting of incentives by the city. TIFs were intended to be used in economically distressed areas, not everywhere. When the use of block grant funds to write down development costs is added to the pile, the situation gets uglier. Efforts need to be made to make the development process easier and ease off of some of the onerous historic preservation rules. Written by Paul Dribin


Real Facts Behind Alleged Racial Discrimination in Mortgage Underwriting

Once again articles have appeared alleging racial discrimination in mortgage underwriting. The allegations are very simplistic, they are based on the fact that fewer African Americans than white Americans get approved for mortgage loans even adjusting for income.

There are several key factors that go into underwriting a loan that belie this argument. A huge factor in loan underwriting is the creditworthiness of the borrower. I have conducted research which has shown that a poor credit rating was the biggest predictor of loan default. It makes sense. People could have a lot of money, but if they don’t pay bills, they are a risk. The analyses conducted by fair housing groups don’t take credit history into account. They are not being accurate to state they are comparing like borrowers.

A second reason which supports the argument that we have a credit worthiness problem is the nature of the mortgage business. Mortgage loan officers are hugely competitive and derive their income from closing loans. I can speak from experience they fight aggressively for each deal. They are not going to pass up a commission because they may be prejudiced against people of color.

Underwriting standards need to be constantly reviewed to insure they are fair to all and capture as best they can the experience of racial minorities. We can get better results. But let’s not go in for simplistic analysis. Written by Paul Dribin

Hi Jinks Involving Stenger, Sheila Sweeney and Associates

Please read this excellent article by Tony Messenger from The Post. It outlines dirty dealing with Stenger and associates on contracts. Sweeney seems to be in on every crooked deal. Why has no one gone after her. Here is the article:








Ask lobbyist Mark Habbas about the people supporting the ballot initiative he’s pushing to make medical marijuana legal in Missouri and he hems and haws.

“Various people” support the Missourians for Patient Care initiative, he says.

Push some more, and Habbas, the spokesman for the effort, offers a variant of the same answer.

“It’s people who are passionate about the medical marijuana movement.”

Why the secrecy?

It may have something to do with who is behind the initiative, their connections to one powerful politician, and their apparent plans to profit if the initiative ever becomes law. Two of the top officers with the Missourians for Patient Care initiative have received lucrative land deals or contracts with boards controlled by St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger. The businessmen are big donors to Stenger’s campaign, and at least two of the county deals appear to have a connection to the marijuana business. The initiative, if passed, would grant Stenger wide powers to determine who gets the potentially lucrative licenses to distribute and sell medicinal marijuana.

Secret money

Habbas would not reveal board members of the nonprofit group that is funding the medicinal marijuana effort, but the initiative’s strategic plan, which has been given to some donors, lists all of them. The Post-Dispatch has obtained a copy of the plan.

The group’s president is John Rallo, a St. Louis businessman who has dabbled in insurance, nightclubs and the construction business for which his family name is most known. The vice president is Michael Kielty, a lawyer who was formerly involved with a different proposal to legalize medicinal marijuana, New Approach Missouri. The secretary is Corey Christanell, a former Anheuser-Busch executive, and the treasurer is former state Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis, a lawyer who doubles as the treasurer of the political action committee by the same name as the nonprofit.

Of the three groups seeking to legalize medicinal marijuana in Missouri, only Missourians for Patient Care is shrouded in secrecy. The lack of transparency isn’t a bug, it’s a feature, built right into the material shared with potential donors. “No donor disclosure required,” reads part of the group’s strategic plan.

To date, the Missourians for Patient Care political action committee shows $117,000 in donations, all of them from the nonprofit with the same name. It is a common scheme used to conceal donor identities. Donors give to a 501(c)(4) nonprofit that doesn’t have to file campaign reports. The nonprofit then gives to the political action committee. In this case, the deceit goes a step further. The nonprofit recorded the gifts as “in-kind” donations, which means that the nonprofit is also paying all the expenses. That means it’s impossible for voters to know who is funding Missourians for Patient Care or how it is spending its money.

Habbas argues the secrecy is necessary. Despite the fact that 29 states have approved medical marijuana and others — including Colorado and Washington — have legalized recreational use, Habbas says donors are skittish. The other major medical marijuana initiatives are filing campaign reports naming their donors.

“We set it up that way because most people who are supporters of it don’t want to be known,” Habbas says. “They just want to keep their donations private.”

Some of them might have good reason.

Stenger connections

Three times in the past two years, Rallo has been involved in receiving sweetheart deals from St. Louis County boards appointed by or otherwise controlled by Stenger. In two of those deals, Christanell was involved. Together, the two men have given Stenger about $40,000 between their various business entities, which include companies that appear to have a connection to the marijuana industry. Both Christanell’s 3Gems Nutrition, and Rallo’s B&B Packaging Group, promote a product called “Heavy Boost,” which various recreational-pot-related publications say enhances marijuana growth.


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Last year, the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership that is run by Stenger ally Sheila Sweeney executed a nearly $500,000 loan to an investment group involving Rallo and Christanell for a building the duo own on North Warson Road. The primary tenant of that building is a hydroponic business.

Later that year, the two men were part of an investment group given a massively under-market deal by the St. Louis County Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority for two properties in the Wellston area which, one of the investors said, could be used for a “distribution” facility.

And in 2016, the St. Louis Port Authority, also run by Sweeney, approved a marketing contract with a Rallo company worth about $130,000 for improving national perceptions of the Ferguson area. As the Post-Dispatch’s Jacob Barker reported Monday, about the only evidence of any work on the contract was an opinion piece written for an NBC News website by TV personality Montel Williams, who misspelled Stenger’s name in the commentary.

What does this have to do with medical marijuana?

That’s the business Williams is in. His company, Lenitiv Labs, lists Jonathan Franks as the company’s vice president for communications. Franks’ public relations company was referenced as a “national partner” in Rallo’s bid for the Port Authority’s marketing contract.

Three years ago, Habbas was walking Williams around the Missouri Capitol introducing him to lawmakers as he pushed a bill to legalize medical marijuana that bears a striking resemblance to the one he’s now pushing for the ballot. “I met Montel through a friend of his,” Habbas said. “John Rallo.”

Habbas, too, has a connection to Stenger. When the lobbyist in 2013 set up his own lobbying company, Habbas & Associates, it was Stenger, an attorney, who filed the paperwork with the secretary of state’s office. Stenger is still listed as the registered agent of Habbas’ company.

Most of the people involved with Missourians for Patient Care declined interviews. Lobbyists Steve Tilley and Travis Brown, both involved in the initiative, did not return calls. Neither did Colona, Rallo nor Christanell. Tilley is the former speaker of the Missouri House. Habbas used to work for his company. Brown is the founder of Pelopidas Inc., the firm that does most of wealthy financier Rex Sinquefield’s political work. The initiative lists the address and phone number of one of Brown’s companies on its campaign finance reports, and he appears on a video promoting the initiative.

Stenger also declined to comment, but he issued a written statement through a spokesman:

“While I know John Rallo, Corey Christanell and Mark Habbas,” Stenger said, “I have no connection to the Missourians for Patient Care organization or to any effort related to medical marijuana.”

Future profits

If the proposal becomes law, Stenger will be plenty connected.

Besides secrecy, the Missourians for Patient Care proposal has two elements that separates it from the other competing proposals: The proposal creates a local licensing authority, so that county executives and mayors will have power over choosing who receives licenses for marijuana dispensaries and distribution facilities. And it limits those licenses to about 1 per 100,000 population, so that those who obtain them can ice out the competition and increase profits.

Rallo and Christanell have already shown they know how to navigate the various boards controlled by Stenger to their advantage. Habbas appears poised to get in on the deal, too. In October, he created a limited liability company called IV ALIVE, whose purpose is to “buy and sell any products legal in the state of Missouri and to provide any and all services legally available in the state of Missouri.” One of his partners in the business faced felony drug charges in 2015 after Wentzville police found “several Mason jars of marijuana and some marijuana that was growing inside the house.” The charges were dropped on a deferred prosecution.

The attorney who filed the paperwork for Habbas’ new venture? The treasurer for Missourians for Patient Care, Mike Colona.

It’s no wonder he’s not returning calls.

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In 2015, ex-TV talk show host Montel Williams testified before a Missouri House committee in support of legislation to legalize medicinal marijuana. [Screenshot from video coverage by KTVI (Channel 2)]


St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger said he knows John Rallo “from the business community” and that “the Post-Dispatch narrative concerning my campaign contributions is misleading and tiresome.” Photo by Laurie Skrivan,

New Police Chief in St. Louis

St. Louis has gone through a long and consulted process to find a new police chief. Who knows why it has taken so long. I read information about the remaining candidates in the Post Dispatch over the weekend. I was disappointed to see that they are all mediocre at best and some seem terrible. One gentleman received a vote of no confidence from the police officers of his home community.

I supposed it is not surprising St. Louis is facing this dilemma. Why would a top notch candidate come here to face the exceptional crap that goes down. Crime is really high but if the police get aggressive in solving crime they are criticized. A refreshing approach would be to do as Chicago did many years ago and reach out to academia for someone. Chicago hired OW Wilson who turned the department around even though the cops hated him. Maybe we should try the same thing. Written by Paul Dribin

Loop Trolley Again

Tony Messenger has written in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that when the Joe Edwards group applied for federal funding for the trolley, they promised $5 million in private funds. Not one dollar of these funds has ever appeared, yet they are asking for more money from St. Louis County. What gives? How inept can people be? Written by Paul Dribin

Audit of St. Louis

The Post published a story over the weekend about a group of citizens raising money for an audit of the City of St Louis. It seems this is part of their effort of complaining about the police department. In any case, it is a bad idea that will not accomplish anything. Audits simply count the pennies and put them in piles. They usually don’t get at the larger management problems. Written by Paul Dribin

Racial Divide in St. Louis

An excellent article by Tony Messinger in the St. Louis Post Dispatch

Why St. Louis?

The question comes from friends and family. It is asked by national reporters and newcomers.

Why, twice in three years, has the St. Louis region been rocked by racial discord displayed on national television for all to see as protesters face off against riot police?

Why not Detroit, Denver, Cleveland, Baltimore, Chicago, Boston or Memphis?

Why St. Louis?

The answer is as old as the city.

On Tuesday, after an interfaith prayer service and march down Market Street, a group of pastors stood on the steps of City Hall next to one of the ubiquitous birthday cakes that three years ago were placed around the city to mark its 250th anniversary. It was then, in 1764, when Pierre Laclede and August Chouteau, slaves in tow, established St. Louis as a trading post.

Racism in one form or another has been with the city ever since.

Why St. Louis?

Look to 1876, and the “Great Divorce” when the city of St. Louis separated itself from St. Louis County and planted the seeds for the white flight that would follow decades later, with 90 separate municipalities forming over time, many of them originally with restrictive covenants meant to keep out blacks.

St. Louis didn’t accidentally become one of the most segregated cities in America. It was designed that way. It was a feature, not a bug. The region’s geopolitical division exacerbates racial division, highlighted by that most parochial of St. Louis questions — where did you go to high school? — which can mask a thin veneer of classism and racial division.

Why St. Louis?

Blame the ’60s. When the civil rights movement was at its peak, when riots were forever changing Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago, they didn’t quite spread to St. Louis. There were marches, yes, even police shootings that bear a remarkable resemblance to the stories of today.

October 1966. Russell Hayes was handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser. He was black. He was shot and killed. Police said he somehow had a gun they missed. Protesters hit the streets for more than a week. They marched to the mayor’s house. Detectives were cleared.

That same year a Washington-based think tank studied school districts in St. Louis and Kansas City and found widespread disparities between the education available in public schools for white and black children. The study spurred a statewide commission — the Spainhower Commission — that called for the school districts in the St. Louis region to be consolidated so that taxpayers in the white parts of town were invested in the success of black students. The commission’s findings were ignored. Racism was the culprit.

“The only place where the report was weak,” James Spainhower told me a few years ago, “was in the thought that people could get over their biases.”

Also in 1966, a University of Missouri law professor published a white paper outlining problems with the municipal courts, calling them the “misshapen stepchildren” of the judicial system. Missouri turned a blind eye.

Until Ferguson, in 2014.

Why St. Louis?

Because three years after Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown, not much has changed. The Ferguson Commission documented decades of racial disparities and pointed to a path forward, but few of its proposals have been adopted. There has been incremental progress made in municipal courts, some push for more transit to be built where blacks live in the city’s north and south sections, an increase in racial equity awareness, but no sustained movement. On Friday, in response to protests, Mayor Lyda Krewson endorsed some of the report’s conclusions. But she lacks the power to put them into practice.

The commission itself on Friday urged adoption of many of its calls to action. Without such action, the commission’s report could end up like one produced in 1969 when community leaders gathered at the Fordyce House at St. Louis University to discuss the city’s racial disparities. By 1990, as he was gathering community leaders for “Fordyce II,” the Rev. Paul C. Reinert, then chancellor at SLU, lamented another report on race put on a shelf to gather dust.

“The good will generated at that conference 21 years ago was largely dissipated because no follow-up procedures were established,” Reinert wrote.

After Fordyce II there was the Fordyce Education Conference two years later, which discussed the racial divide in education examined in detail by the Spainhower Commission, and again decades later, the Ferguson Commission.

In 2017, the racial divide — in schools, in policing, in economic opportunity — persists because St. Louis is good at talking about it, but not so good at enacting meaningful change. The region lacks a convener — either in government or the corporate world — who can bring disparate voices together.

Today’s protests, like those three years ago, started because a white cop shot a black man, but anger is about much more than the bullets that preceded death.

“Think about the peace that children don’t have when they go to inadequate schools,” pleaded the Rev. Cassandra Gould at the prayer service Tuesday. Without education, there is no opportunity. Without opportunity, there can be no equality.

Why St. Louis?

The words are right. The inflection is wrong. Change will not come until we answer a more introspective question.

Why, St. Louis? Why?

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Landlord Lockouts

Tony Messenger had a good article in the Post today about a subject of which I had been aware but needed reminding. That is a situation that is common in St. Louis and probably elsewhere; landlord lockouts and illegal evictions.

What happens is that a tenant who is behind on their rent discovers their apartment is padlocked and they cannot gain entry. A second scenario might involve their possessions being put on the sidewalk. These intimidation techniques often result in the tenant leaving on their own and forfeiting their security deposit. Of course in Missouri as in all states there is a judicial process which involves a court hearing if the tenant requests it.

In St. Louis such actions are not criminal offenses. The board of aldermen is attempting to pass an ordinance criminalizing this behavior. I would like to see huge fines imposed on landlords in these situations for their greedy behavior. Ironically, the courts will always rule in the landlord’s favor if the tenant is behind on their rent. Most landlords, particularly the larger ones do not engage in this behavior. Written by Paul Dribin

The Blues and Creve Coeur Park

As most of you know the hockey Blues have proposed putting a practice rink and ice skating facility in Creve Coeur Park, a gem of a location, which is environmentally fragile. Environmental groups are massively organizing in opposition. Well now we hear that construction has started on the facility without approvals. Tony Messenger wrote about this issue today in the Post. The county denies that the construction is for the arena even though the city of Maryland Heights gave a building permit for construction of an ice arena.

I don’t know why the arrogance and greed have dominated this issue. My take on the issue is that public support for this endeavor may be ok if the public gets use of the facility, but it can easily be located someplace else. Engineers say the park location is prone to flooding. Written by Paul Dribin

Metrolink Policing in the St. Louis Area

The Post Dispatch led by Tony Messenger has written a number of articles which focus on the problems of adequate policing on Metrolink. The gist of the story is that police officer assigned to patrol trains and platform were sitting in an office, texting, sleeping, etc. This is of course terrible.

What is worse however is the lack of cooperation shown by the county to Metrolink, Bi-State, the parent company, and to other units of policing. They came up with a silly ruling that the Metrolink police personnel could not collect fines because they were not official police. Consequently fines are not collected and thugs are having their way on the trains.

This lack of cooperation is the more major problem and again points to the fundamental problem in the St. Louis area; the proliferation and lack of cooperation of the various units of government. Let’s hope this can be a teaching moment for moving things forward. Written by Paul

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