By Gloria Lloyd
For what is likely the first time in St. Louis County history, the County Council has ordered private citizens to testify to the council or possibly go to jail.
The council unanimously voted July 2 to issue subpoenas to Robert and David Glarner, the brothers who own the former Northwest Plaza mall, which has been redeveloped into a North County Government Center and office space called The Crossings at Northwest.
The two subpoenas, which were served on both the Glarners July 19, order the developers to appear at a hearing of the council Ethics Committee Aug. 6.
Under the county Charter, if anyone subpoenaed by the council fails to appear, they can be “arrested and brought before the council,” said council Presiding Officer Ernie Trakas, R-Oakville, who chairs the Ethics Committee. “Hopefully it won’t come to that, but that’s really more their decision than mine.”
The subpoena says the committee is investigating “potentially criminal and unethical activities” of the administration and employees of former County Executive Steve Stenger “and persons doing business with them.”
The Glarners were Stenger’s largest campaign donors, giving at least $365,000 to him over the years, starting with a mystery $20,000 donation from their company Givco LLC early in 2016.
Soon after, current County Executive Sam Page, then the 2nd District council member representing the area that includes Northwest Plaza, announced his support for Stenger’s plan to move the election board headquarters from Maplewood.
Page now says he was misled by Stenger, who always said the lease saved the county money, spurred millions of dollars in economic development and created more than 2,000 non-county jobs.
But critics of the deal like Trakas and 7th District Councilman Mark Harder, R-Ballwin, say the lease is overpriced and was potentially a quid pro quo between Stenger and the developers.
Stenger resigned and pleaded guilty in May to three felonies for a pay-to-play scheme exchanging county contracts for campaign donations.
After Page succeeded Stenger, he asked the Glarners to come back to the negotiating table or face the possibility that the council could void the lease on suspicion of fraud.
The Glarners have had one meeting to negotiate, but their attorneys met last week with Trakas and county Chief of Operations Garry Earls to outline how there are two parallel tracks with the county and the Glarners running now — the renegotiation and the Ethics Committee.
Trakas said he’ll drop the investigation if the Glarners give in to the county requests for a lower price for the lease.
Glarner spokesman Rich Chrismer said in a statement that the developers have cooperated with the county to create the North County Government Center over three administrations: “When you consider the openness and transparency the Glarners have showed since Day One… supplying more information about the leases every time the county requested it; when you consider that the committee made this recommendation to the council before it reviewed the more than 7,000 pages of information the Glarners willingly provided; when you consider the Glarners’ willingness to discuss the leases… the world-class government and commercial center they created… and when you consider all of this, it’s not easy to dismiss the idea this might have more to do with politics and political theatrics than substance.”