Of the three more current accusations stated in the anonymous letter and in your article, only one may require continued investigation, the alleged inappropriate comments to the female student. The affair with an employee seems irrelevant and inconsequential, and the touching of the female student was found to be completely false. For me, the article contained no substantiative events or actions by Mr. Smith that would warrant you putting this story as headline news.
You succumbed to the public's need for gossip and an employee's need for vengeance. You became police, judge and jury, trying a man's reputation and career. You publicly lynched a black man. Shame on you, RFT.
The RFT published a sad and depressing story on Brooklyn, Ill. ("Welcome to Brooklyn," RFT, July 5). I was not too surprised to note that you did not allude to one of the major causative factors that allows such misgovernment to exist (i.e., the lack of a two-party system). I'd bet my last cookie that the folks (alive and from the graveyards) of Brooklyn have been voting straight Democrat since inception.
While a two-party system does not guarantee clean and honest government, any reasonable person would agree that a two-party system generates its own checks and balances in keeping the other guy clean. That certainly beats what Brooklyn has.
Someone once wrote that we get the type of government that we deserve, and this is borne out quite nicely in the Brooklyn situation.
The really scary thing is that the city of St. Louis is on the same downward path and the residents don't seem to care. How many more years will it be before St. Louis joins the likes of Brooklyn?
Richard H. Gerding
You need a program to know the players, and to the people of Jefferson County these players are known for their sleight-of-hand ("Embracing Sprawl," RFT, June 28). C.D. Stelzer hits on several points which really strike home, especially the lunches -- they like the casino crowd and unknown developers (kind of like the Veiled Prophet without the veil). I just cannot understand why if Sam Rauls (Jefferson County presiding commissioner) is against it, why build an airport/industrial park/waste facility in a rural residential area? To despoil nature and to turn people out of their homes is not right. I am just glad that Sam has seen the light and is now against sprawl, but things could change.
Dan D. McCarthy
I think a little clarification is appropriate. D.J. Wilson was absolutely correct about some disagreements between Onion Horton Productions Inc. and New Life Evangelistic Center ("Short Cuts," RFT, July 5). The disagreements are unfortunate and unnecessary. Larry Rice does good work, but his religious focus does not coincide in some ways with our business focus. Nevertheless, our biggest problems with Larry probably emanate from a surprising unwillingness on the part of his organization to allow Mark Kasen, Onion Horton and Larry Rice to talk directly. Many of our agreements have been directed through Larry's varied representatives, allowing decent people to misunderstand each side's position. I don't believe that either group intended to harm the other, and there were missed opportunities, given some of our parallel views. Unlike others in radio who have been clearly unethical, Larry Rice has been, more than anything, just unavailable to us. As I told D.J., we are not going to be in a fight with NLEC, and we wish them the best of luck.
TURN THE PAGE
After spending most of my adult life dreaming of moving near the Loop, I finally did it. I have fantasized for years about Sheldon Margulis yelling at me to pull the book off the shelf the right way, I get excited by the smell of musty paper and low headroom, and it has been a great desire of mine to walk to A Collector's Book Shop any day I wanted rather than do the tourist thing ("Shelf Life," RFT, July 5). It was a major draw for me. Now I find out on the day I move in, Sheldon sold out. First the Bread Company (or shall I say "Panera Bread"), and now this? What's next? Blueberry Hill franchises with a drive-through speaker shaped like Elvis' head? Oh, the humanity!
WILD ABOUT HARRY'S
I would like to start by asking your food critic if he has done this job anywhere but the Midwest ("The Least Side," RFT, July 5). If he has, I would be shocked. I am a cook at Harry's East, and I have cooked in places like Hawaii, Las Vegas and San Francisco. I think his review did not take into account that people's tastes differ, even in a 20-mile area.
He says at one point that the gnoccrhi is tasty and then two paragraphs later says it's "heavy and gummy." It's a potato pasta; it's going to be heavy and gummy.
He says he assumes the crème brûlée was supposed to be cold; in 16 years of cooking I have never seen one served hot. It seems he had more on his mind than a review; it seems to me that he was mad at someone and decided to use an unflattering review as revenge. I think not only was the review in error, I think the way it presents Harry's East is unprofessional. His review may be his opinion; this letter is my opinion.
I am a former employee of Harry's East and believe your comments were harsh. I feel that you had every intention of knocking the place as you entered the door. Harry's East, I believe, was not intended to be a replica of the downtown or west location but a creative, similar restaurant that would succeed on this not-so-cultured side of the river.
I have worked at all three Harry's locations and noted several differences in the menu. I know the wait staff is not perfect. Did you consider that the restaurants on this side of the river Harry's is competing with? They're all chain-type restaurants like Outback Steak House, Ponderosa, Red Lobster, Ruby Tuesday's and Applebee's. Unfortunately for Harry's, people on the Illinois side of the river truly believe that those are fine dining. This is the same job market that Harry's is forced to get their wait staff from. As far as the food is concerned, the executive chef who prepares the menu and recipes for Harry's East provides the same recipes and menu concepts to the other two restaurants. I give you the benefit of the doubt in the pot roast -- I didn't care for it, but I didn't think it was bad. There have been dozens of great comments on it. The calamari is great for the value and is one of the best calamari dishes I have ever tasted. You also made no comments on the excellent quality and taste of the salads you received with the freshly made dressing. You commented on the flash-fried spinach that had an "off" taste -- did you mean awful, or not what you were expecting? I believe you had a bad experience on a Tuesday night. You may have had a newly trained server or possibly unforeseen problems elsewhere. As for Friday, I think you had a good experience but came in with a bad taste in your mouth from the Tuesday-night experience. So I would hope that next time you separate the two evenings and weigh out the differences.
THE REEL THING
As a film professional who has been involved with the St. Louis Film Festival for the past few years and as an infrequent RFT contributor, I have to say I was dismayed by the headline on the front of this week's RFT ("It's Amateur Hour at the SLIFF.") While Eddie Silva's article, which does not bear that headline, at least in my online edition ("Reel Change," RFT, July 5), acknowledges the contribution of the professionals who work with the festival, the cover title is unfair, and I for one resent being labeled an amateur in the pejorative sense that I think Eddie is using. (If taken literally, we are all amateurs at the festival, doing what we do for the love of it.)
While Cliff Froehlich's sidebar was thoughtful and well balanced ("The Big Picture," RFT, July 5), I thought Eddie Silva did a disservice to new program manager Chris Clark by choosing not to mention Chris' past involvement with the festival. A quote from a board member alluded to Chris' SLIFF experience, but it went unexplained. Chris has served as a member of the NFF selection committee, fundraiser and community liaison, but the casual reader would think that Chris came straight from working in a restaurant to his position at SLIFF.
As the article points out, all of us who have worked with Chris are convinced of his qualifications and enthusiasm. While the outgoing director may fear that he lacks the industry relationships she cultivated, there are as many managerial styles as there are managers, and I'm sure Chris will do the job well and in his own way.
As the director of the Webster University Film Series, and somebody who has been involved off and on with the St. Louis International Film Festival since its inception (I actually designed the first program booklets, served both as a judge and an advisory board member, as well as hostess for the New Filmmakers Forum one year at the Webster Film Series), I feel compelled to respond to the article in last week's RFT. As a film programmer with nearly seven years' experience, I find much to agree with and much to dispute.
I will begin with what's not true: It's not true that Webster waits three years to play films -- virtually all of our films are premieres and were created within the last year or two. It often takes some time for films to receive U.S. distribution and it's not unusual for the Webster Film Series to have premieres even before New York or Los Angeles.
It's also false that if the St. Louis International Film Festival doesn't play a film, then it's not likely to be seen in St. Louis. (By the way, we did screen Lamerica.) With the support of Webster University, the Webster Film Series has provided St. Louis film lovers with a year-round program of films (and visiting directors) for the last 22 years that they would not otherwise have seen -- primarily because the content or nature of these films appeals to a limited number of filmgoers. Because these films have a limited audience, needless to say, they rarely make a profit. Where else in St. Louis except for venues that are subsidized, such as Webster and the St. Louis Film Festival, would these films play?
Just as the St. Louis International Film Festival's lineup attracts a small group of loyal patrons who have "more demanding tastes," so does the Webster Film Series. Without a doubt, Webster and the festival share the same patrons, and I'm certain these film lovers would not like to see either the Webster Film Series or the film festival languish. As far as mentioning that the film festival has only an average rating: Virtually every town in the U.S. has a film festival now, and most are well attended and assets to their cities. How many should we expect to be world-renowned?
Which leads to another point I wish to raise. It's extraordinarily difficult to continue to provide any arts programing to the St. Louis community without the support of the local press -- as well as state funding. We have no funds to pay for expensive ads, and press attention is vital to the continuation of smaller arts programs. Coverage of the arts in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is virtually nonexistent, and in The Riverfront Times, formerly the city's undisputed leader in reviewing and promoting underdog arts events, coverage has slipped the most. As a result, many small arts organizations have disappeared from lack of support, leaving St. Louisans to believe that all that remains is a menu of mainstream mediocre entertainment.
To this date, there are no universities that I know of that teach film programming. Yes, it's true, one can study film theory and criticism, but that doesn't prepare one to be a good programmer. Knowing how to negotiate and what's good is important, but, more important, knowing one's patrons and one's community and having the support of the local press, community and granting agencies are much stronger indices of whether or not a program is likely to succeed or fail. Let's hope for the sake of both Chris Clark and Shirley Marvin and the St. Louis International Film Festival -- as well as the Webster Film Series and all the other dance, music, art, photography, theater, poetry and literature programs that are struggling to provide St. Louis with art that's new and fresh but are barely thriving in this arid atmosphere -- that the RFT can print as much ink about all that's good and happening rather than what may potentially fail. I wish the best to the festival and to its new staff and hope that St. Louisans continue to support their (and other arts programs') efforts.
Director, Webster University Film Series
After reading your feature "Reel Change" by Eddie Silva, decrying the lack of professional credentials on the staff of the St. Louis International Film Festival, I began to wonder just how many staff members at RFT have "formal educational training" in journalism. But mostly I just wondered, does Eddie? And I don't mean people who are good writers, know about writing or have done work in writing. These people should not be writing. I mean, what are the professional qualifications of the staff?
Sure, all RFT employees have worked for the RFT in differing capacities (staff, volunteer, board member), but how many can be described as "writing professionals"? OK, we obviously all know how unimportant skill and talent in your chosen profession can be. What the employer and consumer really care about are your diplomas. But until Mr. Silva's article, it had just never occurred to me how incompetent the RFT staff probably is according to these standards.
Using Eddie Silva's flawless objective journalistic methodology, I decided I'd interview a bunch of former RFT staff members and base my entire opinion of the RFT's credentials around their statements, without affording any current SLIFF employees a chance to respond. However, I don't know any former employees. So I went straight to the source: The RFT employment link. This is a great plan: I have a degree in English from a major college. Obviously it's not as good as journalism, but I should at least be qualified to work in the mailroom or sweep floors for the accredited professionals at RFT -- a virtual "who's who" of journalists in America.
Well, as it turns out, you are looking for a music writer whose only credentials are knowing a lot about music and liking to talk about it. I'll be referring you to my 17-year-old cousin.
There is also an opening in production. Apparently this person need only know how to do the job, but no reference is made to a college degree. I'm sure you'll be glad I told you so you can correct such an obvious mistake. And, finally, we come to the retail sales department. The only qualifications there are "career oriented (sans hyphen)," "high achiever" and "college graduate." Finally! That master's in anthropology can finally be put to good use. Before I read this article, I had come to expect a more liberal and/or alternative slant from the RFT. I wasn't aware that your paper judged people based on their college pedigree or that your underlying message is that, to succeed, we should "buy in" (read: sell out) to the traditional educational and corporate philosophies.
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.
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.
Director of Public Affairs
Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District
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.
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).
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?
At Kriegshauser Brothers, we offer the complete solution to the high-cost funeral home. By specializing in services that do not require a funeral home (e.g., visitation at your church, cemetery or nursing-home chapel, cremation, memorial or graveside service), we do not have high overhead. Furthermore, we pass the savings along to the family. The typical savings can range from $1,000-$4,000. So St. Louis families do have an alternative that meets both their merchandise and service needs.
Douglas E. Kriegshauser
BANK ON IT
D. J. Wilson's "A Run on the Bank" (RFT, July 5) vividly illustrates why it is so difficult to promote economic development in the city of St. Louis and why the smart money usually just packs up and moves to the suburbs (more acreage, fewer headaches). Development opportunities remind me all too often of two prizefighters meeting in the middle of the ring to do battle to the death, not to make a deal for development.
"Ladies and gentlemen, in this corner is the Neighborhood Coalition, amateurish and principled, yes, but unwilling to compromise at any cost. In the other corner are the developers, bottom-line-oriented with little concern for the community. At the sound of the bell, each of you will begin to trash each other in the press, hold meetings ad nauseam, stir up politicians to a frenzy, threaten to either pull the development project from the city altogether (goodbye, jobs and taxbase) or vote out any politician who dares speak out in favor of the 'corporation' (Kmart, Walgreens, South Side National Bank -- it doesn't matter, just fill in any evil bourgeois name here) and generally piss off anyone you can in the process, even your friends. Start swinging at the sound of the bell."
Hello? What's wrong with this picture? Successful development does not and should not resemble Wrestling at the Chase. Has anyone proposed a special taxing district in the area of the South Side National Bank for a developer to raise the necessary public funds to make the redevelopment of this property a reality? (Please, no comments about corporate welfare on this one, OK? It's the 21st century. Everybody wants a piece of the public pie, whether they deserve it or not.). These districts have been creatively used on Cherokee Street, Soulard, the Central West End, etc. Why can't it be used in South St. Louis (again, no comments on hardheaded scrubby Dutch, please)?
Oh and do remember, South Side National Bank is a bank! Yes, and a successful one which has done business in the city of St. Louis for generations! Has anyone approached them about some sort of creative financing for the redevelopment of the building (check egos at the door, please).
Pardon my cynicism, but why do I get the sinking feeling that the South Side National Bank development/demolition will end up being the same disaster as the Southtown Famous-Barr site at Kingshighway and Chippewa? The same fighters, the same positions, the same issues, the same empty results. Hasn't anyone learned, or are we going to get our ear bit off again?
Toby W. Paone
I was happy to see Terry Perkins' short article on the upcoming concert by the four founding members of WAR who now perform under the name S.O.B. ("Sound Checks," RFT, July 5)
However, the article contained one small factual error. Lonnie Jordan, who now owns the rights to name WAR along with manager Jerry Goldstein, was an original member of the band, but he was not the saxophonist. He played, and continues to play, keyboards. The band's saxophonist during their hit-making days was the late Charles Miller.
That small glitch aside, thanks to Terry Perkins and the RFT for taking the time and space to point out that these veteran musicians are indeed still out there working and creating great grooves.
In reference to her letter ("Downhill Run," RFT, July 5), I'm sure I speak for all residents of the city of St. Louis when I offer a heartfelt apology to C.L. Westfall for not keeping the sentimental city of her birth in the proper "historic" viewing condition for her occasional visits from St. Charles. Judging from the fact that it has only recently occurred to her that the North Grand area could be perceived as "rundown," her visits must be few and far between! Unfortunately for both of us, there are fewer of us "capable people" around the city than there were, say, 78 years ago. Indeed, it's harder to keep alive that "old-time pride" that Westfall mourns when the old-timers have gone elsewhere. Maybe she could make a start and drive back in from St. Charles to help us "do something constructive" in her old hometown.
Bill J. Michalski
IT'S MONEY THAT MATTERS
Generally, I believe Ray Hartmann's columns are well thought out and well written. Obviously, this is code for "I didn't like your last column" ("Getting What You Don't Pay For," RFT, June 28) and "I have a little too much free time." Let us see if it is "pretty hard for baseball people to argue credibly that the meek can't compete purely on economic grounds." I have created a spreadsheet that lists teams and their total payrolls for 1992-1999 (the strike-shortened year of 1994 is omitted). Each year, the teams are ranked by their payroll. I believe the word "compete" in this context is meant to indicate a legitimate opportunity to make the playoffs. Even a cursory glance at the analysis should prove that a team's likelihood of making the playoffs is largely influenced by the relative rank of the team's payroll. A few points:
1. The team with the highest payroll has only missed the playoffs once during these seven years. The team with the second-highest payroll has only missed the playoffs twice during these seven years.
2. During these seven years, only two teams with below-average payrolls have made the playoffs, Houston in 1997 and Philadelphia in 1993. Therefore, out of 48 playoff spots, about 4 percent went to teams with below-average payrolls. In fact, only four teams with salaries less than 110 percent of the average made the playoffs.
3. In these seven years, 10 of the 14 World Series teams (71 percent) were teams with top-five payrolls.
4. No team with a payroll in the bottom 10 has made the playoffs in these seven years.
I could go on, but I think you get the point. In fact, I think it is quite easy to argue that the teams willing to spend the most money win more often. Does a high payroll guarantee success? Obviously not. Does a low payroll guarantee failure? Almost always.
The NL is falling into line as payrolls would suggest. How does one explain Oakland, Chicago and Toronto in 2000? Chicago is a good team. They have distanced themselves from the pack and will almost certainly become the first team in many years to make the playoffs with a bottom-10 payroll. The fates of Oakland and Toronto are still up in the air. I think it is interesting that both Toronto and Chicago had upper-half payrolls as recently as 1997. Both teams had desired players with relatively high salaries. They traded many of these players for younger, lower-paid prospects. I suspect that this younger talent is no small part of their current success. I think it would be difficult to prove, but I believe both of these teams have benefited from being high-payroll teams in the past. This leaves only Oakland as a consistently low-payroll team to contend for a playoff spot this year. So let's tip our hats to their GM, who is either vastly more competent or lucky than his brethren.
Now, does the existence of one or even three exceptions mean that we have suddenly entered an era where the payroll doesn't matter? I don't think so. The evidence overwhelmingly supports the belief that higher-payroll teams are more likely to make it to the postseason.
If you've made it this far, let me thank you for your time and offer up what I believe is some constructive criticism. What does any of this have to do with spending $350 million in taxpayer money to finance a new stadium? If I have convinced you that payrolls matter, do you believe we should go ahead and fork out the money? Of course not. There are bigger, more fundamental issues here. Why are you wasting your time addressing the effects of payroll on winning percentage? Wouldn't your time be better spent explaining why it is right or wrong for public money to finance private enterprise?
Obviously, I'm a baseball fan. I'm also a season-ticket holder and a resident of the city. I would love to see the Cardinals in a sparkling new brick stadium. However, I am also against city funding (not public funding) for a $350 million megaplex. Oddly enough, I haven't taken the time to sit down and review their plans. I know everything I need to know -- $350 million.
I'm curious, though. Do you oppose all public funding, or only the obscene amounts that have been discussed? If we need a complex, complete with shopping and apartments, let the private sector finance it. However ... Houston built a stadium with a retractable roof for $250 million. We don't need a retractable roof. That's got to knock $50 million off the top, doesn't it? I believe it was the RFT that said naming rights were worth about $100 million. Does anyone believe A-B isn't going to pony up the dough for the naming rights? That leaves roughly $100 million. Well, I don't think it is outrageous for the owners to pick up a piece of that. Let's say $50 million. That leaves only $50 million for the region to come up with. Obviously these are rough numbers, and it is still $50 million of taxpayer money. (Can parking-garage money help pay this debt?) Then let's give the stadium to owners with a few restrictions regarding if and when it could be sold. I suspect they can run it better than the city.
It is difficult to put a value on the benefit the city receives from having the team. Clearly it brings in some tourists from outside the immediate region. Clearly it brings dollars into the city that would have been spent elsewhere in the region or outside the St. Louis area. Psychologically, I suspect, losing the team to the county or East St. Louis would be a blow to the city. Does anyone believe St. Louis does not have an image problem? The Cardinals (and other sports franchises) help keep this image from slipping further.
What is a fair price for the public to pay to help support a private enterprise? Maybe nothing, but let's not pretend that the city benefits from its association with Ralston Purina or Drury Inns in the same way that it benefits from its association with the Cardinals. Lets have an honest discussion about what is fair for the city and surrounding counties to kick in. I think it is somewhat larger than $0 and somewhere far less than $350 million.
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