The St. Louis County Council wants to force the owners of a former St. Ann mall that houses county services to appear before a committee investigating the lease.
It’s part of a longstanding investigation into how former County Executive Steve Stenger entered into an agreement to move a number of agencies to the Crossings at Northwest, formerly known as Northwest Plaza.
At issue is a lease Stenger signed in 2016 to move county departments, including the Board of Election Commissioners, to the complex. Stenger resigned earlier this year after being indicted on public corruption charges not related to the Northwest lease.
Among other things, council members have raised sharp questions about whether the cost of the lease is higher than they were lead to believe. They’ve also raised the alarm about how property owners David and Robert Glarner gave Stenger’s campaign hundreds of thousands of dollars.
After the Glarners didn’t show up to the council’s ethics committee last month, the council voted on Tuesday to issue subpoenas for the businessmen.
Rich Chrismer, a spokesman for David and Robert Glarner, said the council’s decision to issue a subpoena “should concern every businessperson and citizen of St. Louis County since it establishes the precedent that the council believes it can use its authority to interrogate private citizens.”
Councilman Ernie Trakas told reporters that the Glarner brothers’ testimony is necessary “to determine whether or not legislative action is necessary on the part of the council about the continued operation of these leases.”
“Every citizen in the county should be outraged about the hubris demonstrated by the Glarners in ignoring a valid and reasonable request for them to appear and respond to questions regarding the negotiations and implementations of the leases at Northwest Plaza,” said Trakas, R-South St. Louis County.
Trakas went onto say that “the information necessary to determine whether or not there’s reasons to void these leases has to come from the Glarners in part directly.”
“I fully expect that subpoenas will be finalized and issued before the end of this month,” he said. “And the Glarners will appear before the ethics committee.”
Chrismer said the Glarners have been transparent with several county executive administrations about the lease — including providing more than 7,000 pages of information to the council. He added that Glarners have been willing to sit down with County Executive Sam Page to discuss the leases.
“Nearly 30% of the county council seats are vacant, including zero representation for the citizens of the 2nd District, where the Crossings at Northwest is located,” Chrismer said. “Of course we are not being critical of the council for these vacancies, but we are pointing out that this is a drastic step by a county council with substantial vacancies, together with the fact that meetings and conversations with the county executive’s office about this vital partnership are ongoing.”
Asked if the subpoena would set a bad precedent in the county’s dealings with private businesses, Trakas replied “the only precedent that I think it might send is that your business better be above board if you’re going to do business with St. Louis County.”
Body camera deal approved
Meanwhile, the council gave final approval Tuesday to a five-year agreement to supply the county police department with body and in-car cameras.
County officers would get newer technology over the life of the roughly $5 million deal — along with cloud storage of the body camera footage.
“And I don’t think this is an overreach, nor do I think it’s an irresponsible appropriation to spend this appropriation on the cameras. I think it’s worth it,” said County Police Chief Jon Belmar. “I think it’s going to be worth it for our community, and it’s going to be worth it for our police officers.”
While the bills passed without opposition, two council members stressed that the police department needs to be vigilant in developing policies about how the cameras should be used.
“I do request that the police board, when they do implement their policies, get input from the community and they get input from the county council members,” said Councilwoman Rochelle Walton Gray, D-Blackjack.
Councilwoman Lisa Clancy said the rollout of body cameras “will not be the single solution to promoting the safety of all and building a culture of trust and transparency within our police department.”
“If the return on investment, which is the decrease of incidents of use of force by officers and by citizens, and a decrease in citizens complaints is not seen or realized, the responsibility for that failure rests especially on this body and the county police department,” said Clancy, D-Maplewood.
Page is expected to sign the bills setting up the police camera program, which is being funded by the Prop P law enforcement sales tax approved by voters in 2017.
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