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St. Louis Lambert International Airport

Passengers walk through a hallway in Terminal 2, Thursday, May 17, 2018, at St. Louis Lambert International Airport in St. Louis. Photo by Nikos Frazier, nfrazier@post-dispatch.com

ST. LOUIS — Alderman Cara Spencer wants the city to apply for a federal grant to hire a consultant to advise the Board of Aldermen on whether to lease St. Louis Lambert International Airport to a private management company.

Spencer, D-20th Ward, on Friday will introduce a bill which, if passed, would direct the city to apply for such a grant, which under federal law could be as much as $750,000.

Spencer, a foe of privatization, said aldermen need someone with expertise on the issue to provide an “unbiased look” at the issue.

She says that’s needed because of her contention that a team of consultants hired by the city’s top fiscal body, the Board of Estimate and Apportionment, has an incentive to favor privatization.

One of those firms — Grow Missouri Inc., affiliated with retired investor Rex Sinquefield — will pay all of their advisory fees and will be reimbursed for them only if a deal goes through.

Four entities have a say on whether to privatize — the Federal Aviation Administration, the airlines, the estimate board and aldermen, Spencer pointed out. The airlines and the estimate board both have paid consultants but aldermen do not, she said.

Congress, in a lengthy FAA reauthorization bill passed last year, added a provision allowing federal grants of up to $750,000 “for predevelopment planning costs” related to preparing an airport’s application to the FAA’s privatization program.

Meanwhile, the city’s top lawyer — City Counselor Julian Bush — on Tuesday issued an opinion stating that approval by the Board of Aldermen is required for any lease of Lambert property exceeding three years. City officials already had been operating under the assumption that aldermanic approval is needed.

“Certainly any privatization of the Airport would require a lease that exceeds three years,” Bush said in a letter to Spencer. Bush added that other contracts requiring aldermanic approval also will be needed.

Bush also said that, as city counselor, he has authority under city ordinances to work out the consulting contracts with the firms agreed on by the estimate board.

He added that a city ordinance allows contingent fees for consultants if approved by a selection committee, which did happen in this situation.

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Mark Schlinkmann is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.