CITY HALL – In a sharp rebuke, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorialized that St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura Jones gave out a $7 million three-year parking enforcement contract to a major campaign donor right before the COVID-19 shutdown temporarily made the work unnecessary.“[S]he obligated the city to continue paying out hundreds of thousands of dollars for the parking-enforcement contractor to do essentially nothing,” said the editorial, which appeared in the newspaper’s stltoday.com website on June 11. “Taxpayers and the Board of Aldermen deserve to be livid, especially considering how precious every dollar is during this time of drastic budget-cutting.”
The editorial said two of the three main elected members of the city parking commission were not present during a meeting in September 2020 when the group voted on the contract. There was no quorum, and Jones didn’t recuse herself because of the contributions she has received.
It’s not so, said statements from Jones’ office and the office of the contractor, Hudson and Associates LLC. The new contracts could save more than $600,000 annually after the first year of implementation for such services as meter maintenance, collections and parking violations management.
“The decision to select Hudson and Associates and another vendor was the result of [a request for proposal] process resulting in significant potential savings for the City of St. Louis,” the statement from Jones’ office said.
The company did not provide any services and wasn’t paid after it signed the contract early in the stay-at-home period because there was nothing to do, its legal counsel said in a statement.
A statement from the treasurer’s office said the parking commission had ratified in September 2019 a term sheet approving a committee’s recommendation to select Hudson and Associates.
“The treasurer did not consider recusing herself from the vote nor is there any legal reason she [or any other public official] should have,” the statement said. The treasurer ratified the Hudson contract after the city counselor’s office asserted that the parking commission did not have the capacity to contract, the statement said.
Hudson and Associates Legal Counsel Cheryl D.S. Walker wrote that company owner Sheila Hudson had had to furlough 33 of her 38 workers because of the stay-at-home orders.
Walker denied that Hudson’s contributions had had anything to do with getting the contract.
She wrote that the contributions to Hudson and Associates and Shelia Hudson to Jones had been made over a number of years for various offices. According to the editorial, she has given more than $38,000 to Jones’ campaigns for office over the years.
“To imply that one contribution was made in exchange for one contract is disingenuous at best,” Walker wrote. “Ms. Hudson is a person of the highest of integrity and would not have excelled in her business to the point she finds herself today had she been anything else.”
The statement from the treasurer’s office said that as a matter of policy, the treasurer did not seek contributions from potential vendors during a request for proposals process. Jones previously disclosed the contributions, the statement said.
The contentions in the editorial drew the ire of Twenty-Second Ward Alderman Jeffrey Boyd.
“This looks like a political hook-up,” said Boyd, who is running against Jones for the Democratic nomination for treasurer in the August primary. As chairman of the aldermanic Streets, Traffic and Refuse Committee, he is a member of the parking commission.
“I am disappointed that the Treasurer went around the backs of the Parking Commission to finalize a contract that she had no authority to do on her own,” Boyd wrote in an email. “We were working collaboratively to ensure that the contract was in due form according to the City Counselor rules. For over a month we didn’t hear anything from the Treasurer on this issue. I was very surprised that she executed the contract during the debate period with the Parking Commission which includes the Treasurer, Director of Streets and myself.”
Boyd said that as the recipient of a large amount of contributions from Hudson and Associates, Jones should have recused herself from voting on the issue.
“We must have real transparency in the Treasurer Office. This is unacceptable behavior and not in the spirit of transparency or integrity.”