St. Louis County Council Hears Testimony on "Unusual" Northwest Plaza Deal

Michael Calhoun
February 14, 2018 - 4:26 am
Ted Medler testified before St. Louis County Council

KMOX/Michael Calhoun


CLAYTON (KMOX) -- After raising their hands and swearing the oath, three public works officials testified that a deal to move St. Louis County's elections and other departments to the newly redeveloped Crossings at Northwest was "unusual" in multiple ways.

Their testimony came at the inaugural meeting of the County Council's ethics commission.

Ted Medler, division manager for planning and programming, recounted an email he sent expressing concern about the 20-year, ironclad contract at a time when the county was trying to get out of leasing space.

"Who knows what county government and that part of the county is going to look like 20 years from now?" he said when asked to explain why he called the lease "unprecedented" in the email.

Usually, leases are for less than half that amount of time, the officials testified.

"These three gentlemen are involved with any other lease. Why is this one different?" County Councilman Mark Harder wondered while speaking with reporters after the hearing.

Council members peppered the public works officials with questions about the role of Anthony Badino, who ran St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger's campaign and then presented himself as a Special Project Manager from Stenger's office on the 9th floor.

Those public works officials testified that, unlike with most leases, they had little to do with the negotiation of this one. Badino seemed to take the lead.

Harder said he still wants to know: "How did these terms come together? Who pushed these terms? Was it the landlord? Was it the administration? Was it public works?"

KMOX News asked the County Executive: "Who wrote the lease itself? Was it supplied by the Crossings or was it written by the law department here" in the county?

"The attorneys for the county along with the attorneys for the lessor, or the holder of the property, got together and created a lease" and there was some negotiation, Stenger said.

Harder was the only one of his colleagues to vote against stamping the lease in 2016, which leads Stenger to question for the rest.. why have these hearings now?

"I think the Council is taking the political theater aspect of what they're doing a little too far," he said, noting that this is an election year for him. "These hearings are hearings that could've been held a year and a half ago, around the time they approved the lease. And I want to make sure you understand that -- the County Council voted to approve this lease 6 to 1."

Council chairman Sam Page has accused Stenger of favoring the Northwest Plaza site because its redevelopers have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Stenger's campaign.

Stenger points out Page appeared at the site with him then and called the lease a great deal.

Page and other Council members say they didn't have all the information at that time.

One thing they said they didn't know: the county agreed to pay part of the property tax for the Crossings at Northwest. On the other hand, they also learned the county only had one month of lease payment overlap between the election board's old and new homes. They seemed satisfied with this.

Stenger stands by his administration's estimation of $10 million in savings by consolidating offices into the Northwest space.

The chair of the ethics committee, Councilman Ernie Trakas, refused comment and left after the meeting. Harder, however, promises more hearings.

"A lot of promises were made," he said. "A lot of promises on savings were made and we've got to see if those promises are going to be true."