Krewson won't object to public vote on airport privatization

Krewson won't object to public vote on airport privatization

CITY HALL – Mayor Lyda Krewson says she doesn’t object to putting any plan to privatize St. Louis Lambert International Airport to a vote of the people.

“Right now, there is no proposal to vote on,” Krewson said on Wednesday. “If and when there is a proposal, and if the Board of Aldermen decides they don’t want to take that vote themselves, I’m fine. Have an advisory vote of the residents.”

The mayor also said she wouldn’t object to having it be a binding election on any airport lease transaction. But she noted that City Counselor Julian Bush issued an opinion that under the City Charter, the board can’t pass off its responsibilities to make decisions to the people.

“I don’t care either way,” the mayor said. “I think people deserve to have something in front of them before they decide it’s a good idea or a bad idea.”

Krewson said that when the issue first came up in 2017, during the last days of the administration of Mayor Francis Slay, there were two options. 

One was to have the Federal Aviation Administration, the airlines, the Board of Aldermen, and the Board of Estimate and Apportionment (made up of the mayor, the president of the Board of Aldermen and the comptroller) make the final decision on any privatization proposal.

The other option would have called for drawing up a City Charter amendment proposal to have the mayor make the decision.

Krewson said that when she came to office, she decided it was a bad idea to give the mayor final authority. 

“One, I didn’t think it would pass, and I didn’t think it was a good idea,” she said. “I think we’ve got a Board of Aldermen for a reason. They are the elected representatives of the city, and they ought to have a say if and when we get an eventual proposal.” 

Twentieth Ward Alderwoman Cara Spencer, a key opponent of airport privatization on the Board of Aldermen, said she thought it was “great” that the mayor wouldn’t object to a public vote. 

She is the sponsor of a bill proposing a vote on a City Charter amendment saying there must be a public vote on whether to lease the airport to a private operator. Spencer also is the sponsor of a bill to require a public vote.

Spencer questioned a statement in a letter sent to her by Bush saying that no charter amendment had been prepared in connection with the privatization proposal when Slay first brought it up in 2017.

“To my knowledge, no draft charter amendment was prepared,” Bush wrote. “While Mayor Slay’s tentative inclination was to pursue a charter amendment, the application left both options open for Mayor Krewson.”

Krewson decided not to pursue that option.

Bush’s letter said the Board of Aldermen and the estimate board would make the final decision.

A group of paid consultants and advisers known as FLY314, including Grow Missouri Inc., was selected to seek out and solicit proposals from private airport operators. Grow Missouri receives backing from, among others, billionaire Rex Sinquefield. The Fly314 group would ultimately select and negotiate a lease agreement with a private airport operator to manage the airport. 

Editor’s note: The president of Grow Missouri holds a minority investment in MetroSTLcom.

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