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Centene plan goes to court; opponents want ballot question

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A rendering of the new headquarters Centene wants to build at Forsyth & Hanley (company image)

By Kevin Lavery, KWMU

Clayton, MO – The two sides in a dispute over a controversial redevelopment proposal in Clayton took their case to St. Louis County court Monday.

Last December, the Clayton City Council approved a plan by the Centene Corporation to build a new headquarters at Forsyth & Hanley. Centene already owns a building there that used to house a bookstore called Library Unlimited, and later a Border's. The city also recently sold a parking garage to Centene for the project.

Opponents, though, say the council's approval of the project denied the citizens' right to a referendum under the city charter. They're asking a county judge to order the city to put the issue on the ballot.

But Clayton city attorney Kevin O'Keefe says the council did not usurp the charter. "The charter is not vague, it's not unclear and it's very specific," O'Keefe said Monday. "It allow the elected representatives of the city of Clayton to make a decision when the time for a decision is at hand. They did that; and for them now to say that they want to change the rules isn't what the law provides."

The judge has not indicated when she'll rule on the case.

The project's approval passed by a unanimous vote - a fact the defendants say nullifies the right to referendum under the city charter. But plaintiffs' attorney Steve Koslovsky argues the charter language is vague.

"The city has to have some extraordinary circumstances to justify taking away this right of referendum. You can't do it willy-nilly or just because you don't want a controversial issue to go to a vote."

Koslovsky says if the judge rules for his clients, they'll try to put the issue on the June 6 ballot.

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