St. Louis' Board of Aldermen has a message for those trying to lease the city's airport: not so fast.
In a letter released today, eighteen of the twenty-eight members on the board urged the city's Board of Estimate and Apportionment to block the hiring of a consultant to explore airport privatization, saying the city's current course has shown "a lack of transparency, glaring conflicts of interest and widespread public mistrust."
Last week, an Airport Selection Committee surveyed eleven proposals from consultants seeking to aid the city in the process of exploring a lease — essentially, farming out operations of St. Louis Lambert International Airport to a private company. The committee said it only received one proposal that met all its criteria. It then voted to enter into contract with that firm.
But the firm, Grow Missouri, is both connected to billionaire financier Rex Sinquefield and the employer of Jeff Rainford, who previously served a former Mayor Francis Slay's powerful chief of staff. Since Slay started the lease project as one of the final acts of his mayorship (and Sinquefield is persona non grata in many Democratic circles), many city officials outside the current mayor's office have cried foul.
The letter suggests that critics of the process now underway include a strong majority of members of the city's Board of Aldermen. While they acknowledge a lease could have its benefits, the members say they are seeking to stop the Board of Estimate and Appropriation from moving forward with the contract with Grow Missouri.
The seldom-publicized board, which signs off on city contracts and expenditures, has three voting members, all elected by city voters — Mayor Lyda Krewson, Comptroller Darlene Green and Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed.
Green abstained during the selection committee meeting; a representative for Reed's office was unable to attend. Krewson, whose staff had the majority of votes on the committee, is in favor of continuing to explore the process, her spokesman Koran Addo says.
"Since the process had already started, she felt it was necessary to look at the options," Addo says of Krewson. "If we can get a better airport out of this, why not?"
Addo cautions that it's early — and says that any decision about whether to lease the airport would by necessity involve the Board of Aldermen. This contract, he says, is just the beginning: "There's certainly time to be involved in this process and for everyone to learn more about it and what a potential deal might look like."
But for many members of the Board of Aldermen, the process is already tainted. "The Airport Director, the Airport Commission, the Board of Aldermen and the general public have been largely left out of the process," they write. "There is not a single member of the selection committee that has any experience running an airport."
The letter also notes that Grow Missouri won't get paid a dime unless the city ultimately puts the airport up for lease
— which may well incentivize the firm ostensibly working for the city to instead be working to close the deal. The aldermen write, "This framework tilts the scale toward privatization."
The letter was signed by Larry Arnowitz, Brandon Bosley, Jeffrey Boyd, Pam Boyd, Shane Cohn, John Collins-Muhammad, Megan Ellyia Green, Dan Guenther, Carol Howard, Christine Ingrassia, Sarah Martin, Lisa Middlebrook, Beth Murphy, Scott Ogilvie, Heather Navarro, Cara Spencer, Sharon Tyus and Frank Williamson.
You can read the complete letter below.
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