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Government, Politics & Issues

Sommer steps down from stadium board in open-records dispute with convention commission

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 13, 2013: Bruce Sommer, who formerly oversaw operations at the America’s Center, has resigned as a member of the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority Board because of a dispute over open records.

Sommer sent a letter this week to the authority’s board president, Jim Shrewsbury, saying he was upset over the repeated delays by the city’s Convention and Visitors Commission in fulfilling his request for a copy of its budget.

Sommer said he was resigning because “I can no longer allow myself to be in a position where some might think I may be complicit in the violations of the state “Sunshine” law by the … St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission,” he wrote.

His resignation comes as the commission and the stadium authority continue to deal with the possible departure of the St. Louis Rams professional football team from the stadium, in the wake of a dispute over the scope of improvements that the Rams say are required for the team to stay.

In an interview, Sommer said he made the budget request after the convention commission asked the sports authority to provide $2 million to pay the Rams’ legal fees.

“We didn’t feel like we should,” said Sommer. “But more importantly, since they were now asking us for $2 million, it seemed to me we had an obligation to know what kind of money (the commission) had."

Sommer added that in his old job overseeing the convention center, he was aware that the commission often had extra money in its budget to cover contingencies. The commission ended up paying the legal fees.

Sommer wrote that he originally requested a copy of the CVC’s budget five months ago, and has made repeated requests since then. His resignation letter goes into detail about each request.

Sommer emphasized that his request has been for the budget and “all supporting documents,” but that what he got was a one-page summary, which he called "meaningless."

“I worked from 1975 to 2009 in public positions in St. Louis and I never violated any law nor even appeared to have been complicit in any wrongdoings,” Sommer said. “I didn’t do it then, and I will not start now.”

Sommer, 72, a St. Louis alderman from 1975-83, used to run the Sommer House Restaurant.

By the mid-1980s, then-Mayor Vincent C. Schoemehl Jr. put Sommer in charge of the Cervantes Convention Center, the then-Kiel Opera House and Auditorium and the Arena, as well as Tickets Now Ltd.

Sommer subsequently became director of the America’s Center, after Kiel had been closed, and the Arena and the ticket company had been sold.

Sommer retired from that post in 2009. Earlier this year, Gov. Jay Nixon named Sommer to the stadium authority.

Although he’s resigning from the authority, Sommer wrote that he still wants copies of those budget documents – and that, under the state’s Sunshine Law, he still deserves them as a private citizen.

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