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Group blasts survey of St. Louis residents on Lambert as pro-privatization

STL Not for Sale, grassroots group hold press conference at City Hall Sept. 13, 2018
photo credit | Melody Walker
STL Not For Sale, a grassroots group opposed to privatization of St. Louis Lambert International Airport, held a press conference at City Hall to protest a survey that seeks 'input' from residents on privatization.

A grassroots group called STL Not For Sale is criticizing an outreach campaign conducted by a team exploring privatization of St. Louis Lambert International Airport.

The group held a press conference Thursday on the steps of City Hall to protest what it says is a push for privatization. Alderwoman Megan Green, D-15th Ward, said she learned about the door-to-door effort from her constituents.

“The problem is the way in which the canvassing is being done,” she said. “The materials that are being presented to people at their doors have a very biased slant towards privatization.”

A statement from Mayor Lyda Krewson’s office said the advisory group looking into privatization had begun “an informational outreach campaign to keep the public up-to-date” while the idea is explored.

“The outreach plan includes direct information gathering from a sampling of City residents through door-knocking, public forums and public meetings. The purpose is to identify what is known about the exploration process, gather information about residents’ goals for improving the airport, and to answer questions about the exploration process.”

Metropolitan Strategies — one of the multiple companies hired to explore airport privatization — announced in early August that it planned to canvass 20,000 St. Louis residents door-to-door. At a meeting of the Airport Advisory Group on Tuesday, LeJuan Strickland said so far Metropolitan Strategies had knocked on 6,000 doors.

The group’s plan also called for conducting opinion polls and focus groups with St. Louis residents.

Alderwoman Cara Spencer, D-20th ward, is critical of the door-to-door campaign and its claims to solicit input from city residents.

“The organization is eliciting input from the general public without really putting out a lot of information about what the privatization would or could look like,” she said. “And that’s something I think the general public is really begging to know.”

Grow Missouri, a nonprofit funded by billionaire financier Rex Sinquefield, is paying for all fees associated with exploring privatization of the airport in the short term. According to the contract between the city and Grow Missouri, the city will be reimbursed if a private company enters into a lease agreement of the airport.

Alderwoman Green called the current door-to-door campaign a “push poll” that seeks to sway — not solicit — opinions.

“The canvassing at the doors needs to be a transparent, unbiased process, and that not what’s happening right now.”

The statement from the mayor's office said any decision on privatizing the operation and management of the airport will require approval by the Board of Estimate and Apportionment, the Board of Aldermen, the Federal Aviation Administration and a majority of the airlines that fly into Lambert.

Meanwhile, Spencer is sponsoring a bill that would require any privatization or lease of the airport be submitted to voters in a city-wide election. It was introduced to the Board of Alderman in late June and currently sits in the Transportation and Commerce Committee.

STL Not For Sale also is working to take the issue to voters. In order to get the question on the ballot, they will need to gather 6,500 signatures.

Follow Melody on Twitter: @melodybird