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St. Louis County Council seeks law-enforcement probe in its battles with Stenger

The St. Louis County Council passed a resolution Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017, asking municipalities to spend Proposition P solely on policing. The resolution is non-binding.
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

The St. Louis County Council plans to recommend that federal or state law enforcement agencies investigate whether County Executive Steve Stenger broke any laws when he moved some county operations to the old Northwest Plaza shopping center.

The 26-page report circulated this week by the council’s Ethics Committee takes aim at Stenger over his administration’s efforts to help redevelop the Northwest Plaza site in St. Ann.

The report – to be formally presented to the full council next week -- calls for the state attorney general or the U.S. attorney to look into the matter.

In an interview, council Chairman Sam Page – who sits on the Ethics panel -- declined to flatly accuse Stenger of wrongdoing.  The request to law enforcement was being made, Page said, because the council didn’t have the money to launch its own probe into the project.

Stenger calls the ethics report a “baseless, politically motivated … hit piece” by allies of his August primary opponent, Mark Mantovani.

Page is among the critics who contend the county has wasted money on long-term leases.  Page also contends the council was misled when it approved the moves of various departments to the Northwest Plaza site in 2016.

Among other things, the report calls for changing the county’s purchasing code to require “a detailed cost analysis’’  for any lease proposal that comes before the council.

The report also touts the need for campaign-donation limits, by pointing  to about $365,000 in campaign donations that Stenger received from the project’s developers. Page says he is disturbed by those large donations.

Stenger previously has noted that some council members also got donations from the Northwest Plaza site developers, although several have returned the money because of the controversy.

In a statement issued Tuesday night, the county executive said the county’s involvement in revitalizing the shuttered shopping center’s site has resulted in “one of the greatest economic success stories in St. Louis County history.”

The site “now supports over 2,800 jobs, over 20 employers and generates $328 million in annual revenue,’’ Stenger said. He did not attend Tuesday's council meeting, visiting a blood drive instead in south county.

Battles continue between Stenger, council

At Tuesday night’s council meeting, members also:

  • Backed plans for two new county police stations, but added provisions to give the council more control over the process;
  • Introduced a bill that would give the council more oversight on the county’s Port Authority, which is involved in the land acquisition for one of the police stations;
  • Overrode Stenger’s latest two vetoes of bills that would allow the council to hire its own lawyers, which Stenger says the county charter does not now allow.

Stenger previously has vetoed the council’s ballot proposals that seek to ask county voters to change the charter. Those proposals include a measure to allow the council to hire lawyers. The two sides also are battling the issue in court.
Backers laud proposed police stations

The council gave first-round approval Tuesday to a  bill authorizing Stenger’s administration to spend $1.4 million to design two new county police stations. One would be in north county just off Dunn Road, near Christian Northeast Hospital, while the other would be in Affton in south county.

Retired police captain Monte Monteleone was among several speakers who told the council that the current south county station is in dire need of replacement.

“Three lieutenants work out of an office the size of a porta-potty. And the restrooms look like they came out of Coral Courts,” Monteleone said. “It’s a travesty what that station looks like.”

Councilwoman Hazel Erby, a Democrat from University City, told the crowd that she was concerned they were getting inaccurate information when it came to the council’s stance on the new stations.

She said the council backed them, even though it was making some changes in the bill. The measure now calls for the council to  have another say in the projects’ designs before they are allowed to move forward.

Page said the problem primarily stemmed from the Port Authority, which he said wasn’t handling the land acquisition properly. Page blames the fact that all of the authority’s board members – who are county executive appointees – are still in place even though their terms have expired. A Stenger spokesman said all the current authority members are holdovers from Stenger's predecessor, Charlie Dooley.

The chairman formally introduced a bill Tuesday that would toss out all the authority members and require Stenger to name new ones. The replacements would need council approval.

Follow Jo on Twitter: @jmannies

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.