Resolution to add transparency to Lambert airport privatization discussed by St. Louis Board of Aldermen

As efforts to privatize the St. Louis Lambert International Airport continue to be discussed, the St. Louis Board of Alderman continue to seek a seat at the negotiating table.

A resolution introduced by Alderwoman Marlene Davis at Friday’s meeting would do just that.

Resolution 220 would require a representative from St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson’s administration and a representative from the consulting team to appear and provide updates and answer questions before the Board of Aldermen’s transportation committee every 60 days.

The resolution noted that the mayor has agreed to these meetings and added that the public will have access to a “transparency portal” that explains the process and “in every possible case provide access to documents, contracts, reports, meeting minutes and other materials”

Davis said that while she is angry about how the privatization process has been handled so far, there’s no need for fear and anxiety this early.

“We have the opportunity to correct it,” she said. “We also have the opportunity to move forward in an orderly fashion with a lot of transparency and inclusion, and most especially, a clear understanding and open portal to our community so they can understand where we are and what we’re doing.”

Davis added that there has been some misconstruing facts disseminated to the public, stating that there is a deal in place, while in fact the privatization process is still in the early stages.

“There is no contract yet. There was only a recommendation for an entity to move forward in looking at how we present this process,” Davis said. “We should not send fear or anxiety to our communities on this matter.”

If the privatization does happen, the city of St. Louis would still retain the ownership of the airport but would also have a deal in place with a selected contractor in which the contractor would run the day-to-day operations of the airport.

According to the charter and ordinances of the city of St. Louis, the decision to move forward on privatization cannot move forward without approved from the Airport Commission, the Transportation Committee and the St. Louis Board of Aldermen.

Many aldermen echoed support for Davis’ resolution calling for transparency, including Alderwoman Carol Howard, who asked to be added as a sponsor to the resolution.

Others, meanwhile, asked the resolution to be moved to committee to refine some of the language since it was handed out to the board just minutes before the meeting began.

“We should send this to committee. That gives everyone an opportunity to think about it a little more so we can make sure that it encompasses all the information that we really need to be getting about this process as we move forward,” Alderwoman Megan E. Green said.

County Executive Steve Stenger has stated that the plan is sound and could help the economic environment in St. Louis County.

Originally, the idea of privatization was initiated by former St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay before he left office in early 2017. Shortly after it was requested, it was granted federal approval by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

According to some advocates for the privatization of the airport, the deal would allow more income to come into the suffering city of St. Louis. Money from the deal could be used on upgrading key infrastructure within the city along with other projects.

In January, Mayor Krewson, stated the airport has long been in need of substantial upgrades and the privatization would help the airport remain competitive.

“While St. Louis Lambert International Airport has improved significantly over the last few years, no one argues that it is as good as we would like it to be,” Krewson said. “Our leisure and business travelers desire more direct flights to more locations and better and more competitively priced services. Our regional economy needs additional freight transportation. Achieving better airport service is the highest and primary objective of exploring the FAA’s Airport Pilot Privatization Program.”

In January, it was announced that Rex Sinquefield’s nonprofit, Grow Missouri Inc. along with McKenna & Associates LLC and Moelis & Co. LLC, would help guide St. Louis government with the intricacies of the deal.

Critics were quick to point out that the selection process was met behind closed doors, and a quick legislative hearing didn’t allow for any public comment for residents to ask questions or have their concerns heard.

In a letter sent to Krewson, state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, called for the removal of Grow Missouri Inc. from the team of advisors.

Nasheed stated that Grow Missouri Inc.’s founder, Sinquefield has been influencing the privatization efforts and his involvement was an “obvious conflict of interest scenario that taints the entire privatization process.”

Slay argued in a guest column for St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he personally asked Sinquefield to provide the city with resources to explore the possibility of privatization and Sinquefield understands that if it isn’t a good deal for the airport and St. Louis, the deal would not happen.

In other business, Alderman Joseph Vaccaro’s bill to make it unlawful for, “any person to ride, walk or otherwise lead a horse or horses on, along or over the public streets, alleys and sidewalks within the City of St. Louis and the paths and trails, and any extensions thereof within the City of St. Louis” was moved to the informal calendar due to the newest state Senate bill, which would allows the city to regulate the horses and the horse carriages.

“Their only ask from me was to hold off or slow down on the bill that I’m doing that would ban them. In their bill, they do allow us to regulate, which will be going to the board of Public Service,” Vaccaro said.  “We’ll start to establish what fair and reasonable rules are, so at this point I think it’s a better deal to regulate them. If (the state) starts to change or go back on this, then we’ll go back to our original plan.”

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