Short Cuts

BOMBS AWAY: Depending on how you look at it, the building swap was a good deal for the city, or the city got screwed out of $450,000 and its workers got crapped on -- literally.

On paper, the deal made sense; it even looked good for the city. The city would give St. Louis University the building at 1220 Carr Lane, a block east of Grand and north of the expanding SLU medical-school complex. In return, the city workers housed in that building would move to the old Mangelsdorf Seed building at 1316 N. 14th St., a few blocks north of downtown. That way, SLU could demolish the building on Carr Lane for -- you guessed it -- a parking garage.

The comptroller's office says the Carr Lane building had a market value of $1 million, whereas the Mangelsdorf building was valued at $1.5 million. As part of the deal, SLU kicked in $100,000 to help renovate the seed building into warehouse and office space for the relocated city departments: air pollution, forestry and facilities management. So far, so good.

But when the departments moved to their new home on March 26, they had to put their desk workers in the warehouse area. Also, the rehab costs exceeded the estimated $100,000 and have ballooned to about $550,000, according to Steve Engelhardt, spokesman for Comptroller Darlene Green.

A March 10 memo from Marie Jeffries, of the mayor's office, to the department heads was quite clear as to how the transition would be handled: "I am acutely aware that the planned office space for you at the new site will not be completed until sometime in May, based on the contract recently signed by BPS (Board of Public Service). Nevertheless, the move is still on for the 26th." The department heads are advised that their employees will "temporarily occupy space in the warehouse area." Then, in a blunt admonition, Jeffries ends the three-paragraph communique thusly: "There will be no deviation from this plan without my personal approval." Okeedokee, Marie.

As it turns out, the air-pollution workers found a polluted work environment. In the large warehouse area, trucks and heavy equipment drove in and out, and birds flew overhead. "If government workers were covered by OSHA, there were OSHA violations," says one insider. "There were birds flying around, crapping on desks. There's pesticide odors, there's mice staggering around that had been poisoned, there's vehicle exhaust, heavy equipment with carbon monoxide while workers were expected to sit at a desk and work inside." The city employees moved in late March, and just this week desks were beginning to be moved out of the warehouse area, away from the birds and the carbon monoxide.

One negative interpretation of the swap has "SLU swallowing up everything, and what they want, they get," coupled with Jeffries "cramming this down everybody's throat." An alternate view comes from former Ald. Marit Clark, who co-sponsored the aldermanic-board bill that structured the building swap. Clark insists that SLU "is always willing to pay whatever it needs to to get something done; they're not going to cheap out on you." The university had been "begging for this for 10 years," Clark says. And Engelhardt insists that the real-estate part of the swap was a good deal. "At the time of that deal, the $100,000 in cash that the university supplied for renovations in the Mangelsdorf building would have been adequate for the project as it was envisioned then," Engelhardt says. Then the "administration" -- the mayor's office -- sought changes that caused the rehab tab to jump to an amount "in excess of $550,000."

In short, the city signed the swap deal first and figured costs later. From the comptroller's perspective, what drove up the cost of the renovation came from the departments involved and was OK'd by the mayor's office and BPS. From a citizen's perspective, if the city knew it was going to cost $550,000 to renovate the Mangelsdorf building, at least it should have attempted to hold SLU's feet to the fire for more bucks. After all, SLU could always have raised its parking fees.

PAGE SUMMONED: Tim Page is not only a Pulitzer Prize-winning music critic (at the Washington Post); the author and editor of 10 books, including Dawn Powell: A Biography, Selected Letters of Virgil Thomson and The Glenn Gould Reader; and the new artistic advisor for the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, he's the star of "A Day with Timmy Page," a 1967 short-subject film that shows the 12-year-old as auteur. Page made 8mm films as a child, directing friends and family in silent productions. The films within the film "A Day with Timmy Page" contain some outrageous violence -- in one, a baby is kidnapped, then shot -- but the young director is as nimble as Martin Scorsese in distancing himself from an interviewer's pursuit of darker motivations. The precocious Page discusses his directorial influences, which include Birth of a Nation, Intolerance, Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin movies, especially The Gold Rush. He reveals a Hitchcockian disdain for actors and admits that one actress was cast because he likes her.

Whether "A Day with Timmy Page" should be viewed as primer for Maestro Hans Vonk and the symphony staff is up for conjecture. SLSO executive director Don Roth is ecstatic about Page's appointment, but, then, he hasn't seen the movie. SLSO hopes to "utilize Page's vast encyclopedic knowledge of music," says Roth, to help Vonk put together a season's program. "Hans loves to work this way. He loves to have somebody bouncing ideas off of him."

Page is also to serve as "somebody on the inside to communicate our artistic vision. Page is a terrific speaker and a terrific writer. Page is a great communicator in a nontechnical way." With Page, SLSO hopes to better communicate the value of the classical repertoire through talks, special exhibits or special minicourses that would explain "why we're doing the music, what it's about and why you might find it interesting, exciting or stimulating."

Roth describes the appointment of Page as a "slam-dunk" for SLSO. Eight or nine candidates were interviewed over a 10-month selection process, but Page was the unanimous choice: "We knew he loved us because he's given us rave reviews. He's very positive about Vonk and the orchestra. As he said, it's one of only a couple of orchestras that if they'd call, he'd listen."

Page will also join the music faculty at the University of Missouri-St. Louis when he moves to St. Louis this summer. With such a long list of accomplishments at the age of 45, Page could inspire envy in some bitter, middle-aged local critics. Roth cautions against suchcontinued on next pagecontinued from previous pagefeelings: "You didn't have a film made about you when you were 12. You didn't have that advantage." (ES)

A CITY LESS ODD, PLEASE: "Aberrant" is the word to describe the city of St. Louis. Former Mayor Vince Schoemehl used that adjective on Saturday during a mayoral panel discussion held by the St. Louis Association of Community Organizations at St. Louis Community College-Forest Park. Current Mayor Clarence Harmon resorted to the adjective later to describe the city's governmental structure, which was influenced largely by the city limits set in 1876 and a city charter drafted in 1914. What brought together Harmon, Schoemehl and former Mayors Freeman Bosley Jr. and James Conway was the one thing short of a Republican that would bring them together -- the ongoing effort to allow the city to reform its charter ("Solving St. Louis," RFT, July 1, 1998). The subplot is to streamline city government, as recommended in the Walker Report, but all four mayors tiptoed around specifics, hoping instead to woo the crowd of several hundred neighborhood activists to help them in their effort to gain support in the General Assembly in Jefferson City.

All four admitted that any hope for success this session is next to nil, so the focus should be on next year's legislative session. The first step is the formation of a 60-member steering committee to lobby state legislators representing the city to push legislation that will permit city voters to change their charter to make the city a home-rule "county." As it stands now, St. Louis is a "city not within a county" but has elected officeholders (treasurer, sheriff, etc.) who perform county functions and do not report to the mayor. The highly unusual city-county structure, with identical jurisdictional boundaries and dual sets of offices, causes all sorts of headaches, the mayors agreed.

"The confusion that we create by being aberrant has an impact on us that cannot be measured, but I can tell you it's real," Schoemehl said.

One reason to change the charter, Bosley said, is that the city has more elected officials than any other city its size in America: "Do we need to change the city charter? You got three former mayors here who say yes. You got a present mayor who probably knows it needs to be done, but, for the most part, because this issue is so controversial, there's very few things he could say about it that would not bring him grief. But, having been there, we know what the situation is; we know the real deal."

Harmon admitted that he is treading on delicate ground. County officeholders view "charter reform" as a stealth term for "elimination of county offices." The mayors spoke to their lack of control over county offices and how that weakened their job. City Treasurer Larry Williams, and his ability to buy buildings and build parking garages pretty much on his own, was mentioned several times, though all were quick to add that Williams was doing a fine job.

Harmon stressed that voters hold the key to reform. "While you see us here, as proponents of charter reform, it will be you who will cause the charter to be reformed," Harmon told the crowd, "because if you expect city politicians to do this, don't hold your breath."

Conway, a former state legislator as well as a former mayor, was optimistic about getting the enabling legislation through the Legislature next session. One of the keys, he says, is keeping the first step purposefully vague: "None of us are up here proposing a specific type of change, because, quite frankly, politically that's not too smart. Because then, for people who are opposed to one thing or another, you might disclose a handle for them to grab onto and be opposed. What we're saying is that St. Louis city ought to have the opportunity to decide, by you, the exact form of government that it wants to control its future. It's possible."

Another strategy, perhaps to ease the anxieties of the city's 28 aldermen, would be to give them a role in the change. The Legislature's action would only pave the way for a reformed charter, which could be concocted by the aldermen before it is approved or rejected by voters.

Harmon was the first to bring up the most fragile of topics when he wondered aloud whether the city needed to think about how to "re-affiliate" with St. Louis County. To get to that walking-erect stage, though, the city must first crawl its way into doing governmental business the way the rest of the world does.

Schoemehl told the crowd that a change in the charter "will help communicate to the rest of the state and the rest of the region that St. Louis city is more in conformity with the accepted form of government throughout the rest of the state. We will be, if you will, less odd."

Well, it'd be a step.

FLOTSAM AND JETSAM: Lou "Fatha" Thimes, like many other disc jockeys before and since, was fond of saying, "That sounded so nice, let's back it up and play it twice." That must be what the omniscient editors at the daily paper of record were thinking when they ran -- twice! -- Kevin Johnson's review of the Faith Hill concert at the Fox. Word-for-word, the upbeat review was published April 13 on page D3 of the "Everyday" section and on page B2 of the "Metro" section. So what gives? Maybe they should have put a copy of it in the Business section so the drones who just look at stock prices could read that Ms. Hill was "sporting a long blond ponytail not unlike the one Madonna wore for her 'Blond Ambition' tour."... In Zen Buddhism, a koan is a nonsensical question or statement posed to a student to trigger meditation that may lead to greater awareness or enlightenment. Cardinal broadcaster Mike Shannon was raised a good Catholic boy, but he seems to have at least one koan up his sleeve at each game. The few Salesian Brothers left at CBC might have grimaced at the verb tense ex-Cadet Shannon used Thursday night when he uttered this koan after Mark McGwire hit a home run in the first inning: "I hope the fans coming to Three Rivers tonight are already here." What he meant to say, we think, was that any late arrivals missed a McGwire home run. What is the sound of one hand clapping? What is the sound of one man drinking Busch? Heh-heh-heh-heh.

Contributors: Eddie Silva, D.J. Wilson

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