CLAYTON — St. Louis County Council members said Tuesday they may seek to compel testimony from two real estate developers after they failed to show up to an ethics hearing.
Although they did not appear in person, Robert and P. David Glarner had four boxes, including some 7,000 pages of documents, delivered in response to the council’s request for cooperation in the probe.
The council is digging into the negotiations that led to the signing of the 20-year lease at the Glarners’ property, the former Northwest Plaza shopping mall in St. Ann. The Glarners were major contributors to former County Executive Steve Stenger’s political campaign, donating $365,000.
The production “far exceeds the purpose for the committee,” Rich Chrismer, a spokesman for the Glarners, said in a prepared statement.
But Ernie Trakas, R-6th District, the council’s presiding officer and chairman of the ethics committee, said the inquiry could not progress without subpoenas, and the two other committee members, Mark Harder and Lisa Clancy, agreed.
The council began its probe into the Northwest Plaza deal in early 2018 after a Post-Dispatch investigation showed that Stenger’s staff misled council members into supporting the deal on the premise that it would save taxpayers $10 million. The newspaper’s analysis found the deal did not save money and had the potential to cost the county millions.
The council revived its Northwest Plaza inquiry after Stenger pleaded guilty May 3 in a federal pay-to-play case. The Northwest Plaza lease did not factor into the Stenger indictment, but it was at the top of a list of documents that a federal grand jury commanded the county to produce as part of the U.S. government’s ongoing corruption probe. Both Stenger and the Glarners have previously denied they made a cash-for-contract deal.
The county charter appears to give the council the power to compel records and testimony, but there was no record of that power having been used.
Trakas said the council’s probe would focus on negotiations that resulted in Stenger’s director of operations signing the lease, and on “actions taken” after the council authorized the leases in mid-2016.
Trakas said after the meeting that he had made a recent discovery about specific actions but declined on Tuesday to say what those were.
“I have credible evidence that I don’t want to compromise at this point,” he said.
The 14-minute meeting featured some theatrics, as the council displayed the Glarner documents on a high table and placed name cards for the Glarners in front of the empty chairs. Trakas started the hearing by asking if the Glarners or a representative were present, and let a long silence linger before saying he was “profoundly disappointed.”
In a letter to Trakas on June 18, a lawyer for the Glarners said the ethics committee was overstepping its authority by asking his clients to appear. “The publicly-stated charge of the Ethics Committee is to oversee the actions of elected officials and county personnel,” attorney David Richardson, from the Husch Blackwell firm, wrote. “The Glarners are not elected officials nor county personnel. They are private individuals.”
Meanwhile, County Executive Sam Page’s staff is trying to force the Glarners to renegotiate the lease or risk having the county void it altogether. Page weeks ago wrote to the Glarners urging them to renegotiate, and the Glarners said they would be happy to meet.
Doug Moore, a Page spokesman, said the first meeting was Thursday in Page’s office. He said P. David Glarner and Richardson met with Chief Operating Officer Garry Earls and five other county transportation and public works officials.
Glarner discussed how the county had gotten a good deal on the lease. Earls demanded changes to the agreement that reduce the county’s cost by $20 million, Moore said. A second meeting date has not been set.
The Northwest Plaza site is now known as the Crossings at Northwest.