As federal criminal investigations continue into the various pay-to-play schemes linked to former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, the County Council is doing its own digging to find out where taxpayers’ money went and whether some of the squandered millions can be recovered. This is important and necessary due-diligence work — work that could have been performed months ago if not for Stenger’s efforts to disguise his criminal actions as legitimate county business.
Part of that due diligence involves the deal Stenger organized — and the council approved — to lease space within the old Northwest Plaza site from developers Robert and P. David Glarner. The two brothers donated heavily to Stenger’s election campaign, and the Northwest Plaza deal bears all the hallmarks of Stenger doing what he did best: granting lucrative rewards to his major backers.
The council requested that the Glarners testify voluntarily as part of an ongoing ethics inquiry into the Northwest Plaza deal. The county agreed to lease 150,000 square feet of space for 20 years. An analysis by the Post-Dispatch’s Jeremy Kohler determined the lease was worth at least $69 million and as much as $77 million, with no ability for the county to back out. What was touted as potentially saving the county $10 million in fact will likely cost taxpayers millions.
The council has every right and duty to scrutinize this deal and demand answers. It was, after all, a government contract. The Glarners are not merely private businessmen but qualify as government partners who cannot evade public accountability.
But that’s exactly what they’re trying to do. They rejected a council request in June to appear voluntarily, which prompted a unanimous council vote this week to issue an unprecedented subpoena requiring their appearance. It should never have come to this. As supposedly law-abiding citizens interested in getting to the truth, the Glarners should have no qualms about telling the council what they know about the deal.
Could they have something to hide?
A spokesman for the Glarners, Rich Chrismer, protested, “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.” As if to punctuate his feigned outrage, he added that the subpoena “establishes the precedent that the council believes it can use its authority to interrogate private citizens.”
Please. The Glarners are not just any private citizens, and Chrismer knows it. Taxpayers are on the hook for tens of millions of dollars for office space the county probably didn’t need. The council isn’t the only entity interested in uncovering more details. The deal was at the top of the list of documents that a federal grand jury demanded as part of an ongoing corruption probe.
These are uncharted waters. Unprecedented action comes with the territory.