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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”

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.

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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

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:

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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)]

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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, lskrivan@post-dispatch.com

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

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