The seven-hour Board of Aldermen meeting on Monday, June 29 has to be the low of my nearly six years on the board. My heart aches for our city.
Last Friday, through the element of surprise, a coalition of alderpeople introduced an amendment to the budget to Close The Workhouse, and we almost won. We had the votes. Board President Lewis Reed knew that we had the votes. Over three years of grassroots organizing was about to pay off.
Knowing we had the votes is the reason he instructed the chairman of Ways and Means Committee to put the bill on the informal calendar — in spite of hours of fear-mongering debate that if we didn't pass a budget it would revert to the initial proposed budget thus taking away ward capital.
With only 92 people incarcerated in the Medium Security Institution (known as the Workhouse), 214 vacancies in the St. Louis Justice Center, and $8 million allocated toward the Workhouse in this year's budget, the only reason I can think of for Reed’s continued opposition is that he is afraid of activists getting a win.
On Monday, a special meeting was called under the auspices of passing the budget. Our City Charter says it must be passed by July 1. Instead, the city budget was left on the informal calendar, and it became abundantly clear that this seven-hour special session was for special interests.
The bill that came before us on Monday was BB71, which puts a measure on the November 3 ballot that would require that the City of St. Louis enter into an agreement to privatize Lambert airport operations. We spent the next seven hours continually being gaslit and talked over, seeing our calls for a vote on privatization co-opted and twisted into something it is not. The public should weigh in on the future of our assets. That’s not what BB71 does.
The privatization vote bills that both Alderwoman Cara Spencer (D-Ward 20) and I have sponsored in the past requires that the final lease agreement for privatization that is approved by the Board of Aldermen be voted on by the public before it goes into effect. This means that the public would know all of the details of a lease agreement and be able to make an educated decision on whether this is a good deal for the city.
Board Bill 71, on the other hand, requires that the city enter into a yet-to-be-defined contract to privatize airport operations. That contract would have been negotiated and approved in 30 days, and the public would not weigh in on that contract through a public vote before it goes into effect. We know that, especially in these types of contracts, the devil is always in the contract details.
As my colleague Alderman Bret Narayan (D-Ward-24) so masterfully brought up, it can take us from six months to a year to get a contract to do a traffic study for speed humps (a continual frustration of mine). Having only 30 days to negotiate and approve a contract to privatize operation of our largest city asset is asinine.
This rushed timeline is simply to ensure that Republican billionaire Rex Sinquefield gets his payday from his last failed attempt to privatize the airport. In that previous contract to consultants working on privatization of our airport, there was a clause that if a contract was signed to privatize the airport within 18 months of this previous effort then the consultants on that failed attempt would get reimbursed for all the time they previously spent. This amounts to $44 million.
On Friday, St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson made it clear she does not welcome dissent and is willing to dox residents who contact her with opinions she does not like. On Monday, our president of the Board of Aldermen made it clear that he does not welcome dissent either, muting microphones of mostly women who hold opposing viewpoints, while pushing through an ill-conceived bill to benefit Sinquefield.
To say that I am sad for our city would be an understatement.
After this seven-hour meeting, Reed announced that he filed a bill to close the Workhouse that will be introduced at our full board meeting on Thursday, July 2. Aldermen have not yet been provided with a copy of this bill to know if it meets the demands set forth by the organizers for Close the Workhouse and the residents of our city. I hope that it does.
What we do know is that the Board of Aldermen goes on recess on July 10. I would hope that calling special meetings is not just a perk afforded to billionaire campaign donors and that Reed will call special meetings to close the Workhouse in an expedited manner as well.
I want to thank my colleagues Alderpeople Sharon Tyus, Brandon Bosley, Christine Stroer Ingrassia, Annie Rice, Dan Guenther, Sarah Wood Martin, Jesse Todd, Cara Spencer, Bret Narayan, Shane Cohn, and Heather Brouillet Navarro for putting up a hell of a fight to protect our public assets. I also want to thank all of the organizers with Close The Workhouse for their years of dedication.
I know that we will win.
Megan Ellyia Green is alderwoman for the 15th Ward.