The St. Louis County Council wants state Auditor Nicole Galloway to look into county government in the wake of Steve Stenger’s guilty plea on federal corruption charges.
That move came as St. Louis County Executive Sam Page announced that the county is getting back to the negotiating table with the owners of Northwest Plaza.
The council voted unanimously Tuesday to ask Galloway to perform an audit of different parts of county government. Specifically, Page wants her to perform a risk assessment on county contracting. He said that’s vital after Stenger pleaded guilty to steering contracts to his political supporters.
“In light of St. Louis County’s criminal victimization in the hands of my predecessor, I’ve asked the county council to pass a resolution asking Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway to conduct a risk-assessment audit of county government — beginning with our entire contracting process, including those made through the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership,” Page said. “And her team is ready and willing to begin their work immediately.”
Page doesn’t know the exact cost of the audit. But he said that risk-assessment audits typically range between $250,000 and $300,000. Any county that requests a state audit has to pay for the work.
Page said that’s worth it given what the county just went through.
“Most people would consider it prudent. I think it’s mandatory,” Page said. “Whenever you have an indictment for corruption. You have a plea agreement that indicates there will be restitution.”
Councilman Tim Fitch, R-St. Louis County, said bringing in Galloway was a good idea. He added that “with the amount of money wasted by the previous county executive with those contracts, that would be money well spent.”
“I think it’s a good idea to have an external auditor come in,” Fitch said. “The council has its own auditor. But there’s some debate on whether that’s effective. I think most are of the belief that it’s not.”
Page said he didn’t know what the timeline would be for Galloway to conduct her audit, adding “we have to get in line.”
“There are other audits before us, and the auditor has limited resources,” Page said. “The first thing that will happen is we’ll meet in a couple of weeks and we’ll talk about what the scope of the audit looks like. And I think once we do that, then we’ll get an idea of the timeline.”
Northwest Plaza back on the table
During Stenger’s tenure as county executive, he rarely said anything during time alloted for him to give a report. Page isn’t following that example, as he gave a nearly 10-minute report on a host of topics.
He said that the owners of Northwest Plaza, Bob and David Glarner, agreed to “join with us in renegotiating those leases so that terms are reasonable for taxpayers.” Page was among several council members that criticized the lease, especially since Stenger took sizable donations from the Glarner brothers.
“One of the most glaring examples of the previous administration ignoring employees’ wisdom was when the Northwest Plaza lease was negotiated,” Page said. “The council’s ethics committee has pointed out many ways those leases were negotiated in an unorthodox and political way, bypassing the employees who would ordinarily negotiate leases in county government. This was not right when it was done, and it was not right today.”
Page said the Glarners “agreed to come back to the table," calling their relationship with the county a "vital partnership.”
Here are some other developments from Tuesday’s meeting:
- Page issued an apology to the families of three people who died in the St. Louis County Justice Center. He said that the county takes “responsibility for what happened, and we commit ourselves to preventing such tragedies in the future.” Some family and friends of the inmates that died broke down into tears after Page made his remarks.
- One day after Better Together pulled the plug on its bid to merge St. Louis and St. Louis County, the council unanimously passed a resolution opposing a statewide vote on the issue. Councilwoman Lisa Clancy, D-Maplewood, said that in researching why a statewide vote was necessary for the Better Together plan, she “came to the realization that it wasn’t for the right reasons.”
“I continue to remain open to ideas to how our region can be more collaborative and function in a more unified manner,” Clancy said.
- Some municipal officials at the council meeting urged Page and St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson to form what’s known as a Board of Freeholders to look into the possibilities. That body can potentially produce a merger proposal voted on by city and county residents. “I look forward to meeting with [Krewson],” Page said. “And we’ll talk about the Board of Freeholders process and what our legal options are — and how we can initiate that.”
- Council members ended up voting for Ernie Trakas’ bill that increases penalties to retailers that don’t confirm the ages of people that buy vaping products. St. Louis County increased the age of people that can buy tobacco or vaping materials to 21 a few years ago.
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