CoronavirusNewsPoliticsThe SouthSider

Lawyer’s opinion backs Board of Aldermen’s COVID relief bill

CITY HALL – Debate continued Friday over a $168 million COVID-19 funding package, with a lawyer specializing in local government law speaking up for the Board of Aldermen’s version.

In a news conference, the lawyer, Elkin Kistner, defended Board Bill 2, which the Board of Aldermen tentatively approved recently. 

The Board of Estimate and Apportionment, which approves all money matters, then didn’t pass it. On July 16, Reed moved that the board approve a bill that the Board of Aldermen preliminarily passed on July 13. That motion died for lack of a second, and Jones adjourned the meeting. The other two members, Mayor Tishaura Jones and Comptroller Darlene Green, said some wording might not pass muster with the federal government.

But Kistner said the bill fit within the guidelines of the American Rescue Plan Act and the U.S. Treasury as it’s written. He made the comments in the news conference and in an opinion he sent to Reed.

“Literally what you have here is a controversy with no legal merit to it,” Kistner said. “We believe that this legislation is completely valid. We think any attack upon it as supposedly being illegal has no merit whatsoever.”

Reed, who called the news conference, said Kistner had 35 years of experience and practice in local government law handling federal and state court trials and appeals.

Interim City Counselor Matt Moke has said the wording of a portion of the bill calling for $33 million in development projects in north St. Louis could cause problems because it might not be considered COVID-19 relief. Jones has offered an amendment that she says would correct that issue.

Reed called for the estimate board to meet on Wednesday and approve the bill. Then he would call a special meeting of the Board of Aldermen to give final approval to the measure the next day.

Reed stood by the wording of Board Bill 2. He said he hadn’t met with the mayor about it because that would constitute a quorum of the three-member estimate board and violate the Sunshine Law. 

But Jones’ spokesman Nick Dunne said Reed had met with the mayor to talk about the bill the day before the Board of Aldermen’s meeting.

Dunne said the mayor’s office had offered an amendment a number of times to make sure it was in compliance with treasury guidelines. And he said that Kistner was notorious for suing the city.

“After talking to our auditors, it turns out that this attorney did not talk to auditors or the U.S. Treasury to get this guidance,” Dunne said. “He’s operating off of his own interpretation, not with the guidance of the people who are actually directly connected with the federal government.”

Reed still needs to come back and accept the right language, Dunne said. 

The changes the mayor seeks would offer even more for economic empowerment, Dunne said. 

A news release from Reed’s office said the National Association of Counties had released information that directly talks about the issue of using the American Rescue Plan Act money for economic development. 

“Whether it is for public health expenses or economic investments, counties have broad flexibility if the county can demonstrate that these activities support the public health response or that recipients of the Recovery Funds have experienced economic harm from the pandemic,” a document from the National Association of Counties said.

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com 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 www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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