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County Council Meeting

District six councilman Ernie Trakas takes a moment during a St. Louis County Council meeting on Tuesday, May 14, 2019 in the St. Louis County Council chambers in Clayton. Trakas was unanimously voted to the position of chair of the St. Louis County Council later in the meeting. Photo by Colter Peterson, cpeterson@post-dispatch.com

CLAYTON — In an unprecedented move, the St. Louis County Council voted Tuesday to force the developers of the old Northwest Plaza site to testify about the county’s office leases there.

The council also gave final approval to a contract with Decatur, Georgia-based Utility Associates Inc. for police body cameras and in-car cameras.

The 5-0 vote to subpoena the developers, brothers Robert and P. David Glarner, came after they failed to show for a council ethics hearing last week examining the 2016 lease that relocated county offices to the redeveloped shopping center, now named the Crossings at Northwest. It marked the first known time the council has used the subpoena power that the county charter appears to grant it.

“We have every bit of authority to investigate whether or not the negotiation implementation and execution of leases at Northwest Plaza violate public policy because of the way they were obtained or the way representations were made to this body in terms of potential savings,” St. Louis County Council presiding officer Ernie Trakas, R-6th District, said after the vote.

The Glarners were among the largest contributors to former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger’s campaigns, donating $365,000 to his 2014 and 2018 races. The Northwest Plaza lease did not factor into a federal grand jury indictment of Stenger, which led to his resignation and guilty plea this spring. Investigators did, however, subpoena documents from the county related to the deal. The Glarners and Stenger have denied any quid pro quo in the decision to move county offices to the St. Ann development.

Trakas said the council needs to hear from the Glarners in order to make a decision about whether to void what he called “an obscenely long and overpriced” lease.

The council in 2018 spent months investigating the Northwest Plaza lease following a Post-Dispatch investigation showing the savings touted by the Stenger administration were false and that the lease would likely cost the county millions of dollars more. It relaunched the inquiry following Stenger’s guilty plea.

The new administration of St. Louis County Executive Sam Page is attempting to renegotiate a lease with the Glarners, and Trakas called it an “excellent opportunity” for them.

A spokesman for the Glarners, Rich Chrismer, pointed out that the Glarners provided 7,000 pages of documents to the council last week in response to its inquiry and that they have met with Page’s administration to discuss the lease. He suggested the subpoenas had “more to do with politics and political theatrics than substance.”

“We can find no precedent for this council ever taking such action against private citizens or anyone so this action 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,” Chrismer said in a statement.

Body cameras

Meanwhile, the council also unanimously signed off on a contract for police body cameras, making an initial appropriation of $1 million from funds raised by the public safety sales tax voters approved in 2017. Several police officials from municipal departments urged the council to approve the contract, touting the benefits of using the devices.

County Councilwoman Lisa Clancy, D-5th District, said the county still needs to develop procedures and policies for their use and that body cameras will not be the “single solution” to issues related to policing and community trust.

Rochelle Walton Gray, D-4th District, said she believes deescalation training and other policies may ultimately help more than cameras. But she said she spoke with NAACP officials and others who “all feel that cameras do instill trust in the community.”

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Jacob Barker is a business reporter for the Post-Dispatch. 314-340-8291