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St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger

St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger listens to public comment on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017, during a county council meeting in Clayton. Photo by Laurie Skrivan, lskrivan@post-dispatch.com

St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger has established a nearly foolproof way of imposing his will on county taxpayers. He engineers multimillion-dollar deals that favor his campaign contributors at taxpayers’ expense, and then hamstrings the County Council’s auditing authority to restrict its ability to hold him accountable.

He is also querulous about providing answers to the public, telling the Post-Dispatch’s Jeremy Kohler that the “Post-Dispatch narrative concerning my campaign contributions is misleading and tiresome.” Citizens deserve to know how their tax dollars are spent, and Stenger needs to remember that he is an elected public servant who must be held accountable.

The Post-Dispatch is fleshing out the finances behind such deals as consolidating some St. Louis County offices at the former Northwest Plaza, developed by brothers Robert and P. David Glarner, and another questionable marketing deal with John G. Rallo, a well-connected county resident. All three are major contributors to Stenger’s campaign.

Those aren’t the only deals that raise questions. Nearly a year ago, Stenger requested $2.5 million to replace a crumbling bridge near Eureka. The bridge turned out to carry traffic only to and from a property controlled by yet another Stenger campaign donor.

Sorry to be so tiresome, but such questionable deals demand explanations. County Council members in the past year have asked, argued and finally sued to force Stenger’s cooperation with their efforts to exercise spending oversight. Since Stenger won’t allow the council to hire auditors to sift through his dealings, perhaps an investigation that includes the state auditor or U.S. Attorney’s office might yield better results.

Next week, the council plans to begin hearings on various lease arrangements involving Stenger’s campaign donors and friends. Councilman Ernie Trakas, R-6th District, is expected to conduct the hearings.

“There are a lot of questions that we have,” Trakas said. “These will be ongoing and comprehensive hearings — it’s not going to be fluff.”

The council feels further encumbered because of Stenger’s close relationshipwith St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch, a supporter and campaign contributor. That’s why the logical place to turn would be the U.S. Attorney’s office. Members have also suggested asking Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway to audit the county. Stenger is on record as welcoming such an audit.

Galloway is set to begin auditing St. Louis city, which she estimated could take three years and cost up to $1.75 million. The audit will include an examination of the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, jointly operated by the city and county, Galloway said. That could be useful since the partnership staffs the St. Louis County Port Authority, which has been involved with funding some deals the council wants to investigate.

Stenger should rethink his arrogant contention that requests for transparency are “tiresome.” Elected officials who won’t answer to the public might not find it that easy to say no to outside investigators.