Among the local politicians with huge sway over the potential privatization of St. Louis Lambert International Airport is St. Louis Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed. He’s one of three members on the city’s Board of Estimate and Apportionment, which signs off on all city contracts. He also holds one of four votes on the St. Louis Airport Advisory Working Group.
On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Sarah Fenske sat down with Reed, who could ultimately prove the swing vote that determines whether an airport lease is approved, to get his thoughts on the city’s exploration of a controversial experiment in privatization.
Members of the Airport Working Group could vote Wednesday to approve the issuance of a request for qualifications, or RFQ, which entails the screening of potential bidders to gauge whether they can financially and operationally move forward in the process. Reed said he is “OK with [his] designee voting to approve the RFQ.”
“After we finish with the RFQ … what follows that would be a process [of seeking proposals]. And once we get through an RFP process, we truly have something to make a decision on,” Reed explained. “Everyone that says that [they are] for or against [airport privatization], they have no idea, because there's literally nothing in front of us to say what we can make a decision on.”
He added that once any potential lease gets to the Board of Aldermen to vote on, “we will have public discussions and public hearings all over town about that.”
Previously, the Board of Aldermen passed Resolution No. 220 calling for the Airport Working Group’s consultants to come before its transportation committee every 60 days, but that hasn’t quite happened. Reed said it’s because the committee’s chair, Alderwoman Marlene Davis, can choose to bring in the consultants at any given time.
“I set up in a contract that the chairman of the transportation committee was part of the working group — so that that person now is getting the information firsthand, and it's not something that has to be filtered through the consultants or anything,” he added.
Among the advisers Reed added to the consulting group is attorney Bernard “Bunny” Charbonnet, who has a contentious past when it comes to working with the city. He’s also a previous donor to Reed’s aldermanic campaign.
“Bernard Charbonnet understands the airport ... if you take a look at the original consultants that were at the table, very few of them knew anything about our airport,” Reed said. “Very few of them had any experience and understood some of the moving parts, our legislative branch, our community, none of that. Bernard Charbonnet [is] one of the most qualified people to be involved in this project.”
Former St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, who began the process for the city’s exploration of privatizing the airport, is now a lobbyist for a potential bidder — leading to concerns that a select few are advocating for a deal to go through only to serve their best interest.
“That obviously is an issue,” Reed said. “But we need to look at whatever the deals are that may come in and the merits of the deal. And then we also have an opportunity, when we get in committee and when we have the public hearings, to bring those things out, if they even matter at that time.
“Because whoever former Mayor Slay is lobbying for may not even make the RFQ process … so it's not an issue that I am concerned about today. Because it's not something that is on the table. We're worrying about things that are far off in the future that may not even have any bearing on today.”
Listen to the full discussion:
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan, Alexis Moore and Tonina Saputo. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.
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