Slayer

Could the mayor's uncanny habit of making enemies wreck the charter-reform effort?

One survivor of a past mayor-comptroller conflict of City Hall calls Slay's nagging of Green ill-advised.

"It's stupid. There has not been a mayor who won an argument with a comptroller yet," he says. "Percich whupped Conway's ass. Virvus whupped Vince's ass. If a comptroller is doing their job, they can talk about the money they saved by trying to stop the mayors from fucking up. The comptroller has a better public story."

Virvus Jones admits that he loved being comptroller because on the Board of E&A, he didn't have the same problems the mayor did.

Mike Jones, chairman of Advance St. Louis, says charter reform won't pass "without the substantial support of the African-American community"
Gretchen Saller Poag
Mike Jones, chairman of Advance St. Louis, says charter reform won't pass "without the substantial support of the African-American community"

"The only person who has a constituency on that board is the mayor," Jones says. "That was the beauty of why I liked being comptroller: I had no constituency. No one got mad at the comptroller if potholes didn't get fixed, or if crime went up or down, or the streetlights didn't come on."

Most of the Slay-Green brushfires are being covered in brief news articles, in Post-Dispatchgossip columns and in replies to letters-to-the-editor. The topics have included a controversy surrounding a computer consulting contract at Lambert Airport to a company named Bentech, disputes over the sale and leaseback of the convention center, criticism over the early announcement of a sale of a city building to the McGowan Brothers Development Corporation and a disagreement over the extent of budget cuts in the mayor's office.

The airport controversy was treated in the June 7 Jerry Berger column in the Post-Dispatch, a frequent depository of pro-Slay pronouncements. Berger stated that Bentech had decided to drop a lawsuit that accused the city of trying to revoke a contract and award the business to a separate firm, BLL & Associates. According to Berger, depositions in the case showed that "someone in Darlene Green's office had asked the airport to force Bentech to hire BLL or to award BLL a separate contract to monitor Bentech's work."

That brought a blistering letter to the editor signed by John Farrell, public information officer for Green. Farrell wrote that Berger's column contained "outright lies" and said that Berger had not contacted Green's office before printing the item. Farrell stated "the lies leaked from Slay's office -- and the Post-Dispatch's willingness to print them without checking their validity -- are a shameful attempt to hide the culpability of employees within Slay's office."

The punch line came in Farrell's last paragraph. "With home rule and potential city charter changes gaining momentum, it is vital for you, the citizens of the city of St. Louis, and the entire St. Louis region, to be aware that information coming from Slay's office and the Post-Dispatch cannot be trusted," Farrell wrote. "I caution anyone getting information from Slay's office and the Post-Dispatch -- including that on the home rule process -- to question it, and not take it at face value."

What wasn't re-ported by Berger: Depositions taken in the Bentech lawsuit pointed to interference not only from the comptroller's office but from the mayor himself. In the year before Bentech had its contract renewed, the company had lost its certification as a minority firm. In depositions taken as part of the suit, Slay's brother Gerard, who is deputy airport director, stated that Ivy Pinkston of the comptroller's office lobbied against Bentech before the contract was renewed and had encouraged the consideration of BLL. Gerard Slay also said his brother, the mayor, had called to urge him to get the airport commission to yank the Bentech contract.

Neither the Berger item nor the Farrell letter mentioned that BLL is linked to Roberts & Roberts. Michael Roberts' wife, Jeanne, works for BLL. Michael and Steve Roberts are African-American politicians-turned-developers who own Channel 46. Both the Slay and Green camps want to stay on the right side of the wealthy and influential brothers.

The lawsuit was settled, and Bentech was granted one more year at the airport. But the public spat gave rise to a larger, political message: If the mayor's office continues to use the media to put the comptroller in a bad light, the payback might be vocal opposition by the comptroller to charter reform.

Slay's chief of staff, Jeff Rainford, is dismissive of Farrell's June 12 letter. "I saw that letter and never understood it," Rainford says. "It was kind of irrational."

And Rainford interprets Green's doubt about charter reform as a defense mechanism to protect her position and power. "There is no doubt there will be people who are not going to like these changes, not because they're not good for the city, but because they're not good for them professionally or individually," Rainford says. "Look at any time you try to make change, whether it's over at the schools, over at the election board [or] MSD [the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District]. Whenever you try to change things, the people who are in power are going to be resistant."

Rainford doesn't buy the notion that changing the charter will weaken safeguards inherent in the current structure and make City Hall worse. "If the people of St. Louis do become interested in changing the government, you're going to see all kinds of resistance and all kinds of phony reasons for not doing it. You're going to see all kinds of straw men set up," Rainford says. "If people want change, you're going to see things brought up and you're going to have people saying things and using scare tactics in order to protect their own personal and professional situation."

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