By Gloria Lloyd
Some residents might not have even been aware that St. Louis County had a Port Authority at all, but now the county has two — the original and a “shadow” Port Authority that seeks to replace the first one.
In a dispute between County Executive Steve Stenger and the County Council, the council changed county law to appoint their own Port Authority because they object to its decisions. The council claims that the Stenger-allied St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, which staffs the original Port Authority, is using it as a vehicle to award contracts to Stenger donors and allies.
The Partnership filed a lawsuit against the county so that a judge can decide which Port Authority is the current one. The county counselor will defend the county in the lawsuit, but it was unclear what county officials’ view that would be.
And last week, the shadow Port Authority went into closed session to hire its own lawyer and defend its own interests in the case. The group hired Elkin Kistner at a cost of no more than $225 an hour or $10,000 total to represent them in the lawsuit, with funds to be paid from Port Authority funds if they prevail.
Kistner, of Bick & Kistner, has been representing the council in its separate, ongoing lawsuit against Stenger.
The Port Authority oversees roughly $6 million a year in money from admission taxes at River City Casino, which is located on land owned by the Port Authority. The taxes are paid by the casino per person who comes in the gate, rather than the casino-goers themselves.
Although Stenger claims the new law changing the way Port Authority members are appointed violates the county Charter and state law, the council appointed its own members to a new Port Authority.
The new appointees were nominated by each council member. At their first meeting last month, they even appointed a shadow executive director for the second Port Authority, former Economic Partnership CEO Denny Coleman, an ally of former County Executive Charlie Dooley who left soon after Stenger came into office.
Ironically, Dooley appointed many of the members that the council now objects to on the original Port Authority, including south county resident Greg Hayden.
The original Port Authority was serving on expired terms and did not have any Stenger appointees until Stenger reappointed current members and added new members to counter what he saw as the council’s usurped authority.
The shadow Port Authority is chaired by Republican John Maupin, representing the district of council Chairman Sam Page, D-Creve Coeur. He formerly served on the county Board of Election Commissioners before Gov. Eric Greitens declined to reappoint him two years ago.
Another familiar face on the new port panel is Republican Richard “Skip” Mange, a onetime and longtime county councilman and a former mayor and current alderman from Town and Country. He was appointed by his successor on the council, 3rd District Councilwoman Colleen Wasinger, R-Huntleigh. Other new members include 6th District nominee Dr. Robert E. Butler, a Democrat, and Robert Birdsong, a 4th District Democrat.