News Column

P-D Ad Check: Stenger challenges Dooley on cost of courthouse project

July 14, 2014

By Steve Giegerich, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

July 14--AD SPONSOR -- Citizens for Steve Stenger

TITLE: "10 years is long enough."

LENGTH: 30 seconds.

CLAIM: St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley deceived voters on the true cost of courthouse renovation and construction projects.

CONTEXT: County voters in April, 2012 were asked to and subsequently approved a $100 million bond issue to fund major upgrades to the St. Louis County Courthouse and the demolition of the county-owned World Trade Center to make way for the construction of a new Family Courts Building across the street on Meramec Avenue.

The approval for the courthouse projects came four years after voters rejected a $120 million proposal for improvements for the courthouse, the demise of the World Trade Center (the former international headquarters of 7-Up) and a new structure to house the Family Courts.

In June, 2013, 14 months after voters went to the polls, the Dooley administration reconfigured its original estimate and requested that the County Council sanction a $29.5 million special obligation bonds to complete the financing of the projects. Special obligation bonds do not require voter approval.

Stenger, challenging Dooley in the August Democratic primary, was one of five council members that balked at a request by Dooley that the council sign an agreement not to disclose the terms of the process prior to the awarding of a bid.

Dooley and Chief Operating Officer Garry Earls justified the request for additional funding saying the true cost of elevators, improved security, an updated electrical system, digital wiring, heating, air conditioning, shoring deteriorating building supports and other upgrades surfaced in the months following the 2012 bond referendum.

"You know the old saying," Dooley told a reporter. "You never know what you're getting into until you actually get into it."

Council members in effect held their noses and approved the special obligation bonds by a vote of 6-0.

"I felt there was no choice," Hazel Erby, D-1st District, now the council chair, said following the vote. "We didn't do anything to deceive the voters or circumvent their intent. When emergencies come up, we have to make tough decisions. That's what we do."

As depicted in the backdrop to the Stenger advertisement, renovations to the courthouse began earlier this year.

Stenger charges in the ad that project will cost "$30 million more than Charlie Dooley said it would. And Charlie knew it all along."

Dooley's campaign claims the advertisement "continues (Stenger's) history of misrepresenting the facts to voters and fabricating stories for his political gain."

Had Stenger attended a council hearing a month after the 2012 referendum he might have been aware that courthouse budget would likely exceed original estimates, according to a statement issued by the Dooley campaign.

The Stenger campaign counters that the councilman skipped the hearing after learning of the additional cost in an earlier meeting with Earls.

The Dooley campaign also maintains that "Although (Stenger is) now critical of the increased construction budget, he voted in favor of the additional funds."

Stenger in fact abstained from the vote on the $29.5 million special obligation bond.

General assignment reporter Steve Giegerich covers St. Louis County. On Twitter @stevegiegerich


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Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

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