St. Louis alderman alleges stadium debate took a corrupt turn
A St. Louis alderman is contending that debate over a proposed riverfront stadium plan took a corrupt turn when a “loved one” was offered a political favor in exchange for her dialing down her opposition to the project.
But Alderman Megan Green’s charges are getting pushback – especially from her colleagues on the Board of Aldermen.
Soon after the Ways and Means Committee on Thursday backed a financing plan for the $1 billion stadium, Green Tweeted out that “the deal cutting, bribery, and [corruption] at City Hall will never cease to amaze me.”She provided more insight into what she meant after Friday’s Board of Aldermen meeting and in a press release.
“I have a person who is very close to me who was offered a political favor if that person could get me to come off my stance in opposition to the stadium,” Green said. “I imagine if that is happening to me, it’s happening to others at the Board of Aldermen.”
Green didn’t specify who the “loved one” she referenced was or what sort of favor they were offered. She did say that she spoke with the FBI about the matter. (A spokeswoman for the agency told St. Louis Public Radio that the “FBI does not confirm or deny any complaints received.")
“I spoke with them yesterday,” said Green, referring to the FBI. “And they said ‘What’s hard about this case is it is a he-said-she-said’ type environment that many of these are. But I think it goes back to this quid pro quo mentality that we have here down at City Hall."
In a statement, U.S. Attorney Richard Callahan said his office hasn’t received a complaint from Green. He went onto say that "as a matter of course when allegations without substance are made through the media those are not the sort of allegations we would act on anyway.”
Art of the deal?
The city’s stadium funding plan is widely seen as a critical component to possibly block St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke’s attempt to relocate to Inglewood, Calif. And the Ways and Means Committee appeared to be the biggest obstacle, since five of its members had expressed opposition or wariness about the plan.
In the end, Alderman Tammika Hubbard’s bill passed with seven "yes" votes – a tally that included some aldermen who were skeptical of the proposal. Some – including Aldermen Antonio French and Sam Moore – voted "yes" after a multi-faceted minority inclusion plan was amended onto the bill. French was also heartened by ongoing negotiations with St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay’s office over fighting crime.
Green emphasized that the minority inclusion amendments were legitimate. But she then said “my concerns are really that if … my loved ones were approached because of this, who else has been approached?
“And have people been as steadfast in their ethical convictions as myself and my loved ones?” Green said.
For his part, French said the stadium financing plan passed out of committee because opposing sides of the deal were able to come to the table – not because of any nefarious dealings. (Moore also strongly denied on Friday he took anything in exchange for his 'yes' vote.)
“Many of us forced the administration, the NFL task force, the unions to sit down at the table over several weeks of negotiation to work out a minority hiring plan,” French said. “If that’s what she’s referring to, then that’s just politics and that’s how the process is supposed to work. Now if she’s specifically alleging that somebody took money or took a bribe, then that is a very serious allegation. And whoever she’s talking about, she needs to take evidence to the authorities right now about it. Because that doesn’t help this body.”
Alderman Chris Carter was one of two people to vote against the funding plan in committee. While he wasn’t thrilled with the outcome, he added: “I worked through the whole minority inclusion piece and the crime plan piece.
“So I can honestly say from my end, I didn’t witness any corruption when it came to French and Moore,” Carter said. “They just wanted different things for their wards, specifically in terms of the crime plan and a bigger minority package so some of the constituents can actually get work on this deal. I think if Megan has anything, she should probably come forward with it. But my time being down here, I haven’t seen anything.”
Alderman Cara Spencer added: "I have been very vocal that I don't support the current stadium package and no one has attempted to bribe the alderman from the 20th," referring to herself. "For what it's worth."
When asked whether the stadium funding plan’s passage out of committee was a result of give-and-take from proponents and opponents of the plan, Green said: “I think all of this speaks to a larger problem with ethics, both at City Hall and at the state of Missouri.
“Missouri has extremely lax campaign financing laws and extremely lax ethics laws,” Green said. “And so, the lines between what is essentially quid pro, legalized bribery are very muddied in this state. But we see it here every day at the board.
"We have the lobbyists who actually sit on the floor of the Board of Aldermen here, instead of lobbyists being contained to the lobby where they should be,” she added.
The road ahead
The full board is expected to take up the stadium funding plan for initial passage on Tuesday, and it’s widely expected that aldermen will eventually approve the proposal with some changes.
French, though, said that stadium proponents shouldn't celebrate just yet.
"I am taking the mayor’s chief of staff at her word that we will complete our negotiations on a comprehensive [crime] plan before the final vote," French said. "And President [Lewis Reed] has assured us that he will not support this thing at an E&A level if we don’t get our comprehensive plan. So I feel comfortable moving forward out of committee with that."
("E&A" refers to the Board of Estimate and Apportionment, a three-person panel that approves the city's big financial decisions. Other members include Slay, a stadium plan proponent, and St. Louis Comptroller Darlene Green, a critic of the proposal.)
But passage of the financing plan doesn’t mean the stadium will get built. After all, NFL owners could approve Kroenke’s request to relocate in mid-January. And even if the billionaire business’ plans are stymied, he’s under no obligation to agree to the terms of the stadium deal.
And it’s also highly possible that Missouri lawmakers could stop Gov. Jay Nixon’s administration next year from issuing bonds for the project without a statewide or legislative vote. That’s because more than half of the Missouri Senate and nearly three-fourths of the House have signaled opposition to stadium funding without some sort of vote. (Backers of the stadium have said that no bonds for the project would be issued until a NFL team agreed to the terms of the deal.)
"The supporters should be very worried," said Carter, a former member of the Missouri House. "And so, I’m hoping that they can keep their fight going and hold it up, and maybe we can stop it on that level."
When asked about a letter of 120 Republicans and Democrats in the House who wanted a legislative or statewide vote on the stadium bonds, Alderman Jack Coatar said earlier this week he wasn’t concerned.
“These are the same state representatives that try to overturn federal laws and meddle in the affairs of St. Louis on a regular basis,” said Coatar. “I don’t think their letter has much impact on this board.”