Aldermanic panel hopes to clarify role in airport privatization

CITY HALL – A legal opinion could determine how much power the Board of Aldermen would have in any decision of whether to privatize St. Louis Lambert International Airport.

Members of the board’s Transportation and Commerce Committee said at a meeting on July 2 that they’d like to find out for sure whether they can weigh in on any decision. 

Twentieth Ward Alderwoman Cara Spencer told committee members that it had been well publicized that the Federal Aviation Administration, the airlines, the Board of Aldermen and the Board of Estimate and Apportionment (the mayor, comptroller and aldermanic president) each would have a voice. 

However, Spencer said she had heard it was possible to argue that aldermen might not be able to decide on the question. She will ask the city counselor for an opinion on whether the City Charter specifies that the Board of Aldermen should vote on the matter.

Spencer said this would be the first time in the recent past that she had heard anybody seriously considering not involving the board in the final decision-making.

“I think to remove the Board of Aldermen from the decision-making at this point would be a gross misrepresentation of our responsibilities,” Spencer said.

Twenty-second Ward Alderman Jeffrey Boyd, one of the members of the committee, endorsed Spencer’s plan to consult the city counselor.

“At the end of the day, I would like to have a legal opinion that gives us the assurance that we have a legal role,” Boyd said.

The committee originally was to discuss Spencer’s bill that would require a vote of the people before any decision is made on whether to privatize the airport. But the panel couldn’t do that, because a quorum wasn’t present at the meeting.

That bill says there must be a vote before the city can rent, lease or otherwise transfer part or all of the control of the airport under a privatization program of the FAA. 

Also, the panel wants an opinion from the city counselor as to whether the Board of Aldermen would have a say in contracts for a consultant on the potential privatization of the management and operations of the airport. 

In June 2018, the Board of Estimate and Apportionment approved contracts for Moelis & Co., McKenney & Associates, Grow Missouri and various other local and national experts to study the process. 

The consultants are to be paid $800,000 a month, but only if the airport is privatized.

“We have no cap on what they can be paid, which is extremely troublesome, but they will be paid out of the proceeds of the privatization of the airport,” Spencer said.

Boyd said any such payment would be an appropriation, which the Board of Aldermen does have to approve.

“Consultants are to be advising us in an unbiased manner on whether or not we should privatize. Yet they only get paid if we do privatize,” Spencer said. 

Jim Merkel Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit

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