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Reed accuses Slay of 'pay for play' with city contracts; mayor's staff say that's impossible

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 14, 2013 - St. Louis Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed has accused Mayor Francis Slay of using members of his administration in a “pay to play” scheme in which millions of dollars of “no-bid contracts” have been directed to campaign donors.

Reed is Slay’s chief rival in the March 5 Democratic primary.

At a news conference Thursday, Reed’s campaign circulated thick stacks of copies of city contracts that Reed said had gone to Slay donors. In some cases, the contributions had been made within a couple days of the contract, Reed alleged.

Reed provided no evidence that any of the vendors were confirming a link between their work for the city and their financial support for Slay.

Slay chief of staff Jeff Rainford angrily denied Reed’s accusations, saying that the city’s financial procedures bar any no-bid contracts, and that any contract spending must be approved by city-employee panels – laid out in detail by city operations manager Eddie Roth – that don’t include the mayor.

“Almost nothing that Mr. Reed said today is true,” Rainford said. “After 12 years in City Hall, he has no idea how things work.”

“There are multiple redundancies” in the city’s contract procedures “to ensure that one or two people cannot influence the contracting process,” Rainford continued. “Mayor Slay has not once asked to direct a contract to anyone or change an order.”

Any campaign donations have no relationship to the contracts, Rainford said.

Rainford in turn described Reed as “a desperate candidate in a campaign that’s in free fall and he’s just going to throw as much mud as he can against the mayor, in the hope that some of it sticks.”

Reed contended in the news conference, and in a later interview, that some facts were indisputable. Among them, he said, is that “many of these contracts were signed by city employees who work for Slay" and about 80 percent of the contracts “went to vendors who gave money to Slay.”

Reed acknowledged that some of the vendors also had donated to his campaigns in recent years, but he said that the difference was that he had no control over the contract awards that he was singling out.

Reed said that if he became mayor, he would not accept any donations from any vendor within six months of a city contract award to them.

Rainford challenged that pledge, by distributing a list of current Reed donors who have obtained – or sought to obtain – city contracts. “Talk is cheap," Rainford said.

Accusations center on contract procedures

Reed, Slay and Comptroller Darlene Green make up the city’s Board of Estimate and Apportionment, which approves most city contracts. The spending highlighted by Reed involved contract extensions or additions that did not go before the board.

Rainford and city Operations Director Eddie Roth said that, by law, the changes cannot involve more than 25 percent of a contract’s total cost. Under requirements stipulated by the city Charter, the changes also must be approved by specified panels of city officials or employees, with the members varying according to the type of contract.

Professional service contracts must go before the city’s Board of Public Service, which is made up of city department heads. Reed noted that those department chiefs are part of the mayor’s cabinet.

Rainford and Roth said that, as a result of the city Charter, many people – including Comptroller Green – must OK any contract changes.

Referring to Reed’s allegations, Roth said, “There are so many checks and balances” that it would “literally be impossible” to direct contracts to favored vendors.

“It didn’t happen. It hasn’t happened. It couldn’t happen,” Roth said.

Backing them up was Tony Thompson, chief executive of Kwame Building Group, which is one of the firms on the city-contract list circulated by Reed.

Thompson asserted that Reed might be making the allegations because Thompson previously had donated to Reed’s campaigns, but isn’t this time because he is backing Slay’s re-election. Thompson emphasized that he had been a Slay campaign donor for at least 20 years.

As for Reed, Thompson said angrily, “He’ll never get another dime.”

Reed campaign manager Glenn Burleigh said the candidate is standing by his accusations: “I believe we have made a compelling argument that there is something wrong in Room 200.”

Reed cites staff email soliciting Slay campaign aid

Reed contended that he had heard of city officials soliciting vendors for Slay campaign donations.  The only example he provided was an email that Board of Public Service President Richard T. Bradley had sent out in 2011 soliciting people to pay $500 to participate in the Mayor’s Cup Fundraising Golf Tournament, which raises campaign money.

Rainford acknowledged that Bradley had made a mistake in sending out the email via his city email account. But otherwise, Rainford emphasized that Bradley broke no laws because he is a mayoral political appointee. Bradley also sent out the missive on his own time, Rainford said.

(UPDATE) Reed campaign manager Glenn Burleigh said Friday that the campaign was standing by its assertion that Bradley had broken state law with his email. (End update)

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.