CLAYTON — With his family’s real estate deal facing a critical vote at the St. Louis County Council on Tuesday, the director of programming and operations at KMOX (1120 AM) called on some big names at the station to help lobby council members: talk show hosts Charlie Brennan and Mark Reardon, and sports director Tom Ackerman.
All three of the well-known personalities submitted comments urging the legislative body to approve a zoning change on a vacant 4-acre property on Lemay Ferry Road that would allow the construction of a self-storage warehouse facility.
The site is owned by Sylvia Moore, whose husband, Carl Moore Jr., died last year. The couple has had the site under contract for three years, pending approval of the zoning change, Sylvia Moore said.
Carl Moore Jr. was the father of Steve Moore, the executive who prevailed on Brennan, Reardon and Ackerman to write letters supporting the self-storage facility.
None of the radio talkers’ statements to the council, however, indicated they had any connection to the seller of the property, leading some council watchers to question why some of the region’s best-known media names were taking sides in a mundane zoning change.
Ultimately, though, the council voted 7-0 to reject the request.
After the meeting, County Councilman Ernie Trakas, a Republican whose 6th District includes the property and who opposed the rezoning, questioned whether it was proper for members of the media to make statements on behalf of their boss on a personal financial matter.
“How is it appropriate for three on-air personalities, none of who live in District 6, or live near this site, or have even gone and looked at it, to opine what should or should not go in there?” Trakas asked. “I’d say that even if one of them lives in District 6, they would have to really pause and decide if this is something that’s appropriate for a media person to do.”
Steve Moore told the Post-Dispatch he had emailed several people to ask them to support his family’s cause before the council, and said he did not see any ethical problems about asking longtime colleagues for support. He said they were just three of dozens of people he had emailed asking for help.
“I never used call letters, it’s never been a topic on the air, it hasn’t been a topic in our news department, I don’t believe anyone sent a letter and mentioned the relationship with KMOX and I didn’t mention my relationship with them, so I don’t feel uncomfortable asking three friends to support this project along with other friends and business leaders that I know.”
Brennan said Moore had approached him and told him he was trying to generate support for the project. He said he told him that he would look into it and decide whether he could support it, and found that he could.
“We’re citizens of St. Louis County and like everyone else, we’ve got an interest” in seeing vacant land generating taxes, Brennan said. He said it was “a very good piece of economic development” and there “might be different angles on this, but, nonetheless, it’s a good proposal.”
Ackerman did not respond to request for comment. Reardon said he needed approval from his bosses to speak to a Post-Dispatch reporter, then followed up to say he had no comment.
Reardon’s comment to the council also included criticism of Trakas. “The fact that the primary opposition to this plan is Councilman Trakas (who) has a record of not allowing these storage units in his district is ludicrous,” he wrote. “This is another example of how poorly government actually runs.”
KMOX, which bills itself as “the voice of St. Louis” and the city’s “most trusted source for news and information,” is one of five stations in the St. Louis market owned by Philadelphia-based Entercom Communications, the second-largest radio company in the United States. KMOX is the top-rated news-talk station locally.
Kelly McBride, a senior vice president of the journalism institute Poynter and an expert on media ethics, said there were no clear-cut ethics rules for news organizations, but that “in this case, I would say these individuals are more guilty of abusing their power and influence then they are necessarily violating a code of neutrality. Talk radio people aren’t really neutral, for the most part, but when you have that level of prominence you have to be super careful and transparent about any public action that you take so that it’s not perceived to be an action that you’re taking from the platform that you have professionally.
“In this case, nobody said, ‘Hey, I’m only speaking for myself as a citizen or making this request on behalf of my boss. There was no transparency to this, and that would make me wary as a news consumer because it looks like these three individuals are using their prominence to create a financial benefit for their manager. They probably don’t perceive it that way, but that’s how an outsider would perceive it, especially when you see all three doing it.”
Moore insisted that his stepmother, not he, was making money off the sale. “I have no financial benefit.”
But McBride said, “Even if the money is not going into his bank account, he is helping a family member and he is tapping the prestige of the people who work for him to get that done.”
At issue was a request for the council to approve the rezoning of a 4-acre property at 5419 Lemay Ferry Road. Carl Moore had operated a used car lot, Moore’s Used Cars Inc., there for many years.
The property now has just a single 3,400-square-foot building, built in 1934. The new complex would have included 90,000 square feet of self-storage warehouses and offices. The developer, Covington Storage Solutions LLC., withdrew a similar proposal in 2017 after opposition from neighbors. The county planning commission in December voted 7-0 to recommend approval of the zoning change.