Alderwoman Cara Spencer is trying again to force a public vote on the privatization of St. Louis Lambert International Airport.
Spencer, D-20th Ward, on Friday introduced Board Bill 19, which largely resembles one she co-sponsored that stalled in the transportation committee last session. Then-chair of the committee Marlene Davis, D-19th Ward, at the time said it was too early to consider the bill and added that she feared a vote would discourage bidders.
While Spencer contends she had enough votes last year — and still does now — the bill failed to get out of the committee after co-sponsor Alderman John Collins-Muhammad, D-21st Ward, changed his mind and his vote at the last minute.
What’s different this time around, Spencer says, is that she believes she’s cleared up a misunderstanding about what the bill aims to do. She clarified that it does not put in place a date for a proposed vote.
“What we’re simply saying is if the city moves forward with privatization, there would be a vote,” she said.
The Board of Aldermen, the Board of Estimate and Apportionment, the Federal Aviation Administration and the airlines would ultimately decide whether to go through with the idea.
“The public doesn’t need to weigh in on every little decision the government makes. We do elect leaders to take on issues,” Spencer said. “But an issue this big, the city’s single largest asset — by a longshot — if we are going to hand it over and be a guinea pig across the country on such a matter, we really ought to have a very rigorous, healthy public dialogue.”
Many critics of airport privatization, including Spencer, have cited potential conflicts of interest and a lack of transparency to the public.
Of particular concern, Spencer said, is that Fly314, the Rex Sinquefield-associated consultancy researching the proposed measure, is only paid if the city goes through with privatization. It is currently footing the bill for the process. The group did not respond to a request for comment on where it stands regarding a public vote.
“I don’t think it’s possible at all with the process we’ve undergone thus far to come to any conclusion that isn’t tainted by the process itself,” Spencer said, adding that she believes the city should start from scratch with new consultants.
Glenn Burleigh, a volunteer with the citizen-organized group STL not for Sale, is also concerned the public is being left in the dark on the matter, despite the fact that FLY314 has created a page on its website it calls a "transparency portal" that includes information about the process.
“The transparency portal is not very transparent, because there’s a lot of stuff they just don't post on it, and that includes numerous polls that have been done over the course of the past year,” Burleigh said. “We firmly believe the reason these polls are not being posted is because they show what we know — which is that privatization is hugely unpopular in the city.”
STL Not For Sale is not waiting for aldermen to take action. The group is about halfway to the 10,000 signatures necessary for a petition to put the vote on a public ballot. He says his coalition is growing in momentum, thanks to support from groups like Jobs with Justice. While there’s no deadline yet for the city to decide on whether to move forward with privatization, he’s hoping to gather all necessary signatures by August.
Editor’s note: Airport privatization will ultimately be decided by St. Louis government officials, including the Board of Aldermen and the Board of Estimate and Apportionment; the Federal Aviation Administration; and the airlines that operate at Lambert airport. An earlier version of this article did not include a complete list of the entities involved.
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