St. Louis Airport Privatization Working Group Faces Lawsuit Over Closed Meetings, Records
A lawsuit filed Friday aims to open closed-door meetings and obtain documents held by a city working group considering leasing St. Louis Lambert International Airport.
The plaintiffs allege members of the Airport Advisory Working Group knowingly violated the Missouri Sunshine Act in eight instances.
The suit is being brought by St. Louis resident Alan Hoffman — who has previously objected to the closing of the working group’s meetings — and the Sunshine and Government Accountability Project.
Project founder Mark Pedroli said he’s seeking information he believes should have already been made public. That includes documents submitted to the group regarding the qualifications of the 18 companies interested in leasing the airport.
Pedroli is hoping to get the full version of the documents through his lawsuit.
“What we intend to do is get the documents. We intend to get the communications. We intend to get the things that are supposed to be made public,” he said.
(In response to St. Louis Public Radio’s separate request for those documents Nov. 4, the city’s custodian of records Diedra Weaver denied the request, citing legislation that allows documents to remain closed because they relate to the potential leasing of real estate and public knowledge could jeopardize the competitive bidding process. On Friday, Weaver said that the working group is reviewing its contents and that the group plans to release redacted versions by the end of next week.)
Through the lawsuit, Pedroli is also hoping to void any actions he believes have taken place improperly behind closed doors. The lawsuit argues that defendants discussed business in closed session that doesn’t directly relate to the reasons given for closing it.
“Most of the time spent on the airport privatization process is being spent behind closed doors and outside of the view of the public,” Pedroli said. “That’s deeply concerning.”
Defendants of the lawsuit include: the city of St. Louis, Mayor Lyda Krewson, President of the Board of Alderman Lewis Reed, Comptroller Darlene Green, Budget Director and head of the working group Paul Payne, Deputy City Counselor Michael Garvin and Custodian of Records Diedra Weaver.
In response to the lawsuit, Payne said he’s been diligent about keeping within the bounds of Sunshine Law.
“There are some times people will want to know more information than is particularly available,” he said. “But we are in the negotiation — conducting a competitive bidding process and a negotiation process, and some of that requires that information be in closed session.”
In a statement, mayoral spokesman Jacob Long said the Missouri State Legislature allows governments to keep confidential documents related to real estate and negotiating contracts until those agreements are either approved or terminated.
“The city is diligently working to release whatever it can release without impairing its negotiating position and without prejudice to the trade secrets and competitively sensitive information submitted by those firms seeking to qualify for consideration relative to the city's exploration of the potential leasing of operations at St. Louis Lambert International Airport,” he said.
The working group is currently vetting the qualifications of companies interested in leasing the airport. It’s expected to ask some of those companies this month to submit detailed proposals.
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