Letters to the Editor

Published the week of July 12-18, 2000

P.S. I would like to take the time to thank Cliff Froehlich for his objective and reasoned critique of the film festival in "The Big Picture." All of his criticisms were valid and (in a decidedly unprofessional manner) accompanied by helpful suggestions to make the event better, and perhaps give our city a festival to be proud of.
Jeremy Calton

SEWER LINES
In a June 21 letter to The Riverfront Times, Tom Sullivan made a number of incorrect and irresponsible allegations against the Metropolitan Sewer District. He complained of MSD's charges for copying documents, quoting State Auditor Claire McCaskill as saying in the RFT's June 14 article "Where the Sun Don't Shine" that "a $25-an-hour charge to copy documents could be illegal." She didn't say it. Instead, an audit by her office of the Camden Point Fire Protection District said its charge of "$25 per hour may be ... excessive."

MSD charges 10 cents per page, plus the cost of labor to disassemble, copy and reassemble the documents requested. The labor cost is based on the hourly salary or fraction thereof earned by the employee doing the copying. This fully complies with the letter and spirit of the Sunshine Law. Sullivan also claimed that, on occasion, MSD refuses to provide records that "clearly should be available to the public." He cited no examples, because he couldn't. MSD has never denied him or anyone any documents open to the public. A charge is billed to citizens requesting copying, which must be paid prior to receipt of the copied documents.

Sullivan further claimed that MSD holds "numerous closed meetings for disallowed purposes." This is simply not so. The purpose of every closed meeting is announced in advance and conforms with the Sunshine Law. Sullivan also charged that the reason for MSD's closed meetings is to "cover up all the crooked and illegal activities the sewer district is well known for." This is outrageous. MSD has a totally clean reputation; no charges have ever been brought against it. Sullivan is merely trying to mislead the public by making false statements without any facts to back them up.

Finally, Sullivan alleged that St. Louis Assistant Circuit Attorney Tom Finnegan and a lawyer from the Missouri Attorney General's Office attended a June board meeting to "remind" MSD of its responsibility to follow the law. In fact, they were invited by the chairman to brief the trustees on possible changes to the law and provide background to two trustees new to the board. While everyone has a right to their opinion, no one can invent their own facts if they wish to be taken seriously.
Terry Briggs
Director of Public Affairs
Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District

FAIR PLAY
Randall Roberts might care to do a bit of fact-checking before he makes the assertion that "Chuck Berry has never performed" at Fair St. Louis. ("Radar Station," RFT, June 28). Though the name of the fair has changed, I attended a Chuck Berry concert at the Veiled Prophet Fair sometime back in the early '80s.
Edward Ulkus

EXIT STRATEGY
Thank you for the article "Thinking Outside the Box" (RFT, June 28). I only wish I had heard about this store when my mother died in 1997. I live in Belleville, and we have no funeral homes like Kriegshauser in St. Louis, which offer discount funeral packages, so we're pretty much at the mercy of the funeral homes and their exorbitant rates ($35 to fix a dead person's hair?).

The casket store should think about offering vaults as well -- I paid $395 for a simple concrete box to put the casket in (Illinois law requires a vault), and the fancier versions of these ran all the way up to $800. For the life of me, I can't imagine why someone would pay that much for something that's going into the ground and you'll never see again (actually, the same theory applies to a casket, if you think about it).

Since I am an only child, I was responsible for paying for my mother's funeral. Even if she had had life insurance, she was on public aid and any proceeds would have gone back to the state to reimburse them for her care. And if there is next of kin alive, public aid won't pay a dime for the funeral (as I tried to explain to my uncle in front of my mother's casket). My husband and I had to take out a personal loan for $5,000 to pay for the funeral (and that still wasn't enough -- we had to get a cash advance on our credit card for some miscellaneous expenses). Funeral homes don't offer payment plans, you know. They want their money right up front. Or, if you prepay for the arrangements, they sit on the money and make money off the interest. What a racket!

Maybe, after we get the funeral loan paid off next year, we'll be able to afford a tombstone to put on my mother's grave (and hopefully, they won't the money for that all at once -- but I bet they will).
Diane Schultz
Belleville

In response to your article "Thinking Outside the Box," the question remains: Why are caskets so expensive? The answer is really very simple. Historically, funeral homes have placed high markups on caskets to recover their high overhead. Most funeral homes represent a $2 million-$3 million investment. Consequently, some entrepreneurs recognize a business opportunity offering only merchandise without the funeral-home investment. Hence the so-called casket store is born. But this puts the grieving family in an awkward position. How would you feel buying a steak from your butcher and taking it to your favorite restaurant?

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