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Government, Politics & Issues

St. Louis County Council wants to hear from Port Authority members

Councilmembers Ernie Trakas, R-Oakville, and Sam Page, D-Creve Coeur, talk to reporters after a July 24, 2018, meeting.
Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
Councilmembers Ernie Trakas, R-Oakville, and Sam Page, D-Creve Coeur, talk to reporters Tuesday after a meeting.

Members of the St. Louis County Council may try to subpoena people who have served as members of the St. Louis County Port Authority.

It’s the latest salvo in a long-running feud between the council and St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, a schism that will likely remain even if the Democratic chief executive wins his primary next month.

Several members of the County Council, including chairman Sam Page, have raised questions about how the Port Authority awards contracts and real-estate deals. Page, D-Creve Coeur, has been among the critics concerned about the authority’s handling of a land deal for a planned police station in south St. Louis County.

On Tuesday, the council’s ethics committee was at least temporarily thwarted in its quest to talk with members of the county’s Port Authority.

Of the six members of the Port Authority invited to speak to the committee, none showed up. Ethics committee Chairman Ernie Trakas said the council may move next to subpoena the port commissioners.

“While the committee and the council are not law enforcement, we still need, and indeed are charged with, the responsibility of understanding how millions of taxpayer dollars are being spent, so that we can protect the taxpayer,” Trakas said during Tuesday night’s council meeting.

Jefferson City lawyer Chuck Hatfield, who represents the Port Authority commissioners, told the committee in a letter than the commissioners needed a clearer picture of what the committee wanted to ask them about.

Hatfield indicated Tuesday on Twitter that it’s unclear whether the County Council has subpoena powers. Stenger spokesman Cordell Whitlock said that since the Port Authority is a state entity, the council doesn’t have the authority to use its subpoena powers to summon members to its committee.

Last week, Page led a successful override of a bill that he says dissolves the county Port Authority’s board of commissioners. That bill – which had been vetoed by Stenger – bars members of the Port Authority from continuing to serve because all have expired terms.

The bill calls for Stenger to appoint new Port Authority commissioners, who then must be confirmed by the council.

Stenger said in an interview last week that Page was “delusional’’ in believing the council had the power to shut down the Port Authority’s board. He says the commissioners are staying put.

“The charter specifically states that all of the terms that are even expired terms under the charter are continued until individuals are replaced,” Stenger said last week.

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