CLAYTON — St. Louis County Executive Sam Page has replaced four of the five members of the County Library Board of Trustees, but advised them against “second-guessing” a controversial decision to develop a new administrative building and genealogy center in Frontenac.
It was not clear whether the board’s new makeup would have any effect on the dispute between the library district and the city of Frontenac over the $20 million project planned near Clayton and Spoede roads.
Frontenac in July sued the library in Circuit Court to stop construction of the new building, and County Councilman Tim Fitch, R-3rd District, had asked Page to replace the board’s five members because they were serving on expired terms and “not responsible to any elected body.”
Page split the difference by appointing new members, but without giving them a mandate to stop the project. He also reappointed the president, Lynn Beckwith Jr., who had led the board through the process, to a term of one year. In a letter to the board last week, Page asked the members to listen to opponents of the new facility in Frontenac and seek ways to make it “a good fit for the community.”
“As stewards of public funds, we must welcome criticisms and learn from them as best we can,” he wrote. “But micromanaging an appointed board’s contracting decisions is certainly not a best practice and second-guessing a board’s business decisions is always easier than making those decisions in the first place.”
Frontenac Mayor Kate Hatfield said Monday she was encouraged that Page was urging compromise. The city has said its main concerns are the size and intensive use of the 80,000-square-foot building, and the impact on traffic.
“I definitely plan to reach out and welcome them and and invite them to meet with us so we can work together,” Hatfield said. She said it appeared the members had “varied backgrounds and experience. I’m very encouraged.”
Fitch said in an interview that he had wanted Page to replace Beckwith, but was surprised the county executive replaced four members at once. He said he hoped Beckwith “would see this as a message from the county executive and the community that he needs to sit down with the city of Frontenac and see what he can do to reach a compromise. What needs to be on the table is a serious reduction in the size of that building.”
Beckwith could not be reached on Monday. Library director Kristen L. Sorth praised the outgoing board members and said she was looking forward to working with new ones — but said the library had no intention of altering its plans.
“I’m not sure what they want at this point, other than for us not to be there, so I don”t know what compromise” Hatfield was talking about. “The plans are still the plans.”
There could be movement soon in Frontenac’s lawsuit. St. Louis County Circuit Judge Stanley Wallach last month heard arguments from both sides about whether the city’s lawsuit should proceed and said he would give the case his “most prompt attention.” A conference in the case is scheduled for Thursday.
The new members of the library board:
• Joan Barry was appointed to a three-year term to replace Michael Mulligan. Barry, a registered nurse, served for seven years in the Missouri House of Representatives, where she was chair of the House Committee on Children, Families and Health.
• Laura Horwitz was appointed for a one-year term to replace Edith Cunnane. Horwitz is co-founder and executive director of We Stories and has previously worked for the Pew Charitable Trusts.
• Ted Sanditz was appointed to a four-year term to replace Elena Kenyon. Sanditz is a sales and consultant specialist at the O’Connor Group, a member and former president of the County Library Foundation board of directors, and has served on several civic and health care boards.
• Johnny Wang, an attorney and partner at Stinson LLC, was appointed to a two-year term to replace Chingling Tai. Wang is founder of the Asian American Chamber of Commerce St. Louis and secretary of Focus St. Louis.
A Post-Dispatch story in February revealed the library paid $6.1 million for six acres in Frontenac without getting an appraisal first.
To acquire the site near the corner of Highway 40 (Interstate 64) and Spoede Road from four separate owners, the library’s governing board took the unusual step of waiving its policy of getting appraisals before buying property. All four homes bought by the library were demolished.
The properties have been appraised by the county for a total of $2.2 million. But the library subsequently commissioned an appraisal, which found the site was worth more than the library paid for it.