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Public vote on airport privatization is grounded at City Hall

St. Louis Lambert International Airport. August 2018
File photo / Carolina Hidalgo / St. Louis Public Radio
Committee stalls bill requiring public vote on airport privatization.

A bill that calls for a city-wide vote on any future deal to privatize St. Louis Lambert International Airport is stuck in committee. The bill’s sponsor, Alderwoman Cara Spencer, D-20th Ward, presented Board Bill #93 to the Transportation and Commerce committee Thursday, but the chair announced at the outset that she would not call for a vote.

The chair, alderwoman Marlene Davis, D-19th Ward, said it was too early to consider the bill. Davis is also a member of the Airport Advisory Working Group, which monitors the team of consultants exploring privatization opportunities.

“It’s a long time until we know what kind of proposal we can get,” Davis said. “It could be a year a more from now.”

Davis said the consulting team is already six weeks behind on the 18-month schedule it outlined in August.

Any private lease agreement for the airport is subject to approval by the city government, the Federal Aviation Administration and the airlines operating out of Lambert.

Spencer said she was disappointed that her bill was not put to a committee vote. “This was the fourth hearing of the bill,” she said. “The bill is exceptionally simple. It just answers the simple question: If we move forward with privatization, will the public have a say by way of a vote?”

If the committee meets next week, it could consider the bill. But Davis appeared to be willing to table the bill until next year. “We want to work on the bill to strengthen it,” she said. “A vote on this could discourage bidders.”

City Hall committee meeting Cara Spencer 12.06.18
Credit Melody Walker | St. Louis Public Radio
Alderwoman Cara Spencer on Thursday presents Bill #93 to the Transportation and Commerce Committee.

In sharp contrast, Spencer said, her bill would help define the privatization process.

“This bill gives assurance to the public that they are going to have a say in the process,” Spencer said. “I think this will also help the investors understand what the process will look like.”

Davis informed the committee that the city will be hiring a communications manager for the purpose of coordinating information on the privatization process between the consultants, the advisory group, elected officials and the public. She expects the position to be filled in the next 30 days.

Follow Melody on Twitter @melodybird