"First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win." -- Mahatma Gandhi

McCloskey’s Receive More Press Coverage Than Sam Page?

July 20th, 2020 by editor · No Comments

Page asks council to fund North County medical needs | Covid 19 ...

By Tom Sullivan

The Post-Dispatch had a total of nearly three entire pages for a front-page story in the Sunday paper about Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the Portland Place couple who have received national attention, while at the same time there are big gaps in the newspaper’s coverage of County Executive Sam Page, who is up for election with a decision to be made in less than three weeks.

Such a lengthy article in the Post is almost unprecedented in recent years — especially for people who are not elected officials, are not running for office, have not been charged with a crime nor committed any. Admittedly, there is reader interest in the matter but three pages seem excessive when the paper is ignoring so many other things, especially with its coverage of Sam Page and St. Louis County government.

The story on the Portland Place couple was written by Post-Dispatch reporter Jeremy Kohler. He bills himself as an “Investigative reporter @stltoday — with a focus on St. Louis County.” Kohler has been covering county government for about three years, from around the time Steve Stenger and the County Council were doing battle and the first storm clouds began gathering over Stenger.

While the Post has dug into the McCloskey’s background, going back to even a birthday card Mark McCloskey received when he was 20 years old, which was an exhibit in an old lawsuit, there are huge gaps in the paper’s reporting on Sam Page and St. Louis County government. Some examples:

►   Post-Dispatch readers know all about property the McCloskeys own but not the Page family. Dr. Sam Page lives in a home worth $1.6 million according to Zillow. It has 5 bedrooms and 6 bathrooms and covers 7,000 sq. feet. Sam Page talks about diversity but doubt it was on his mind when buying a house in his elite West County neighborhood.

►   Sam Page is also said to own property in southern Missouri. What does he own and what is it worth?

►   If we live in a society of such inequality, as Sam Page likes to say, he has benefited enormously from it. Doctors are paid many times the average annual salary of most people. This likely has made Page a millionaire. For many years his household income has likely been in the $500,000 range as his wife is also a physician. Once when Page was council chair a council meeting was cancelled as Page and his family (or part of it) were taking a vacation in Europe. Not something the average family can afford.

►   The inequality has also allowed Sam Page to take in a considerable amount of contributions from doctors and doctor groups. Doctors can afford to make contributions. There has been no reporting on the total contributions they have made to the Page campaign.

►   The Post-Dispatch has largely ignored campaign contributions to Sam Page. Since it was the issue that caused Steve Stenger to corrupt county government and land in prison, you would think it would get a lot of scrutiny. The Page PAC was set up so Page could accept contributions greater than $2600 — the limit on contributions to candidate committees (but not political action committees) that was initiated by Sam Page when he was council chair. This is no small amount of hypocrisy on Page’s part.

►   The Page PAC has taken in about $300,000 in the last few weeks or so. Not a word in the Post-Dispatch. Today is the deadline for quarterly reports and the Page PAC should have a lot to report, along with the Page candidate committee.

►   On Sept. 27, 2019 Sam Page asked the County Council to enact a “prevailing wage” ordinance that would require prevailing wages be paid for construction projects funded by the county. It is quite a perk for construction unions as it pretty much guarantees wages for workers will be held at a higher level. In four years and four months on the County Council, Page never saw the need for such an ordinance. But now he was running for county executive. The County Council gave final approval to the prevailing wage ordinance on October 15, 2019. On December 27, 2019 — exactly 90 days after Page asked the council to approve  the ordinance — the Laborers Union contributed $50,000 to the Page campaign. Not a word in the Post-Dispatch though the paper did report Page saying that “pay-to-play politics ends now.” That was shortly after he became county executive.

►   Sam Page has also taken in over $100,000 in campaign contributions so far from Centene Corp. and its executives. This has not been reported by the Post-Dispatch. Former Centene executive Cindy Brinkley, who was making $4.7 million annually before retiring, is the lead advisor of the CARES group of five advisors picked by Sam Page to advise on how to spend the $173.5 million federal grant to fight COVID-19 effects. Presumably, it was Centene chairman and CEO Michael Neidorff who recommended Brinkley. Neidorff was best buddies with Steve Stenger and now it seems Page has taken his place. Tom Irwin, former Civic Progress executive director and now senior vice-president at Centene, promoted Page’s contrived police review plan to the St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners last week. The police board is supposed to be separate from county government but Page and Irwin trampled all over the board’s independence.

►   The spending of the $173.5 million federal government grant has pretty much been overlooked by the Post-Dispatch, though stories were done about the morgue that was built in near secrecy and how minority contractors were being excluded. There have been questions about why so many purchases have bypassed the normal bidding process but these question have mostly been asked by reporters at media outlets other than the Post.

►   Elliott Davis of FOX-2 just did a story about nearly $29,000 was needlessly spent on legal fees in an attempt to close down the House of Pain gym. Sam Page said it should be closed. That’s small stuff compared to the hundreds of thousands of dollars of other legal fees that are being spent by the county, some paid for from the federal grant and some by the county.

►   The county had a contract with Hawthorn suites in Maryland Heights that was said to cost nearly $1 million but the suites were hardly being used. It was supposed to be for first responders needing to self-quarantine. The county spent $2.6 million or more for food grants and there were considerable purchases made for face masks. It is mostly unknown how all these purchases were handled and how it was decided who to buy from.

►   Link Market got a $110,000 food grant but there have been questions about the organization. It was created a few years ago and was supposed to provide fresh produce to under-served areas at two Metro transit stations — one in Wellston and one at North Hanley — but has failed to do so. Both markets had few customers and are now closed. The Post-Dispatch coverage of this organization has been awful.

►   It is unknown when or where the CARES group meets. In a Post story about the advisory group it read: “Page has clarified that it’s not he who will make the decisions, but teams of advisors he has put in place . . . ” It isn’t easy to figure how decisions are made on spending the federal grant.

►  Dr. Alex Garza, head of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, also has connections to Sam Page. He made a nominal contribution to Page’s campaign. Page appointed him to the Board of Freeholders. His wife, Melissa Garza, worked for Claire McCaskill for more than 20 years, which was how Garza got a job in the Obama administration. She was considered for a job in the Page administration as a policy advisor. Dr. Garza has praised Sam Page and Lyda Krewson for how they have handled the COVID-19 pandemic.

►   One of the first things Sam Page did after becoming county executive was ask the County Council for nearly $700,000 more for his office. The amount was reduced but it seems that the county executive’s office has grown under Page. In particular, a lot of political operatives have been hired. His chief of staff, Winston Calvert, who was forced to resign as city counselor under Mayor Francis Slay, has brought in many of his friends. This includes Tod Martin as Director of Administration. He was the deputy chief of staff for Claire McCaskill’s operations in Missouri and is the 15th Ward Democratic Committeeman in the city. On his Twitter page he says he is a “Recovering Neuroscientist.”

►   The Post-Dispatch has never listed all the people working in Sam Page’s office and has overlooked a glaring problem of Page and many people working for him: they have almost no management experience. Also, there are now four former Post-Dispatch employees working for Page and St. Louis County: two former reporters, one former editor and one former photographer.

►  Sam Page, Winston Calvert and others had apparently been planning to have Page replace Steve Stenger for some time. It was said they had regular Sunday night meetings at the office of Republican political consultant David Barklage. A 48-page “Transition Plan — County Executive Same Page” was produced, apparently well before Stenger resigned after being indicted.  They no doubt had an idea Stenger was to be indicted. Page’s candidate committee paid thousands of dollars to Calvert before Page became county executive — for “Communications.”  That description seems questionable.

►  A recent tweet said the Page bunch did some opposition research on Hazel Erby, ahead of the vote by the County Council for county executive. After stepping on and over Erby, Page said he was closer to her than anyone on the County Council.

►   Sam Page’s record on the County Council has all but been forgotten. In his first two years on the County Council he was a 100% rubber stamp for Steve Stenger. Among other things, he voted for the notorious leases at the old Northwest Plaza, saying they were a “great value” for St. Louis County. He also voted to give $3 million to the Loop Trolley — tax dollars that were totally wasted as the trolley has mostly stopped running.

►  Sam Page all but endorsed the county giving $700,000 to the Loop Trolley last year.  This apparently was because of the influence of John Meyer, president of the Loop Trolley Company. Meyer works for the Capes Sokol law firm. So does Michelle Schwerin, who Page appointed to the County Police Board and Amy Fehr, who Page appointed to the MSD board. It isn’t known what connection Page has to the law firm.

►   Amy Fehr was appointed to the MSD board last year by Sam Page. She doesn’t seem all that interested. At one point she had missed two of three MSD board meetings. There is only one a month. She rubber-stamps most everything. For all those homeowners with stormwater and backup problems, Fehr will make no difference. She doesn’t care and neither does Sam Page.

►   In 2017, Sam Page insisted the council hire someone he wanted for county auditor. This person has been a disaster as he has no accounting or auditing experience and is unable to perform audits. Page has followed this pattern as county executive — handing out jobs to favored people whether competent or not. But it has not been reported on.

►   The county has spent  hundreds of thousands of dollars for outside law firms to handle matters it would seem the County Counselor’s office should be able to handle. There have been questions about the competency of County Counselor Beth Orwick, who was hired by Page last summer. She was severely criticized for her handling of the Sgt. Keith Wildhaber matter.

►   The county hired a law firm earlier this year to handle negotiations with the owners of the old Northwest Plaza Shopping Center. The leases that the county has there, which were initiated by Steve Stenger, are said to cost $20 million to $30 million more than they should. This was supposed to be a priority issue with Sam Page. He has done some sabre rattling on the matter but has achieved no results. What’s going on with the mediation/ negotiations? Nothing about it in the P-D for some time. This is something voters should know about.

►  Sam Page has been doing some extreme pandering to African-American voters. Ray Hartmann did an excellent column on this in last week’s Riverfront Times: “Sam Page Is All Talk On Race.” Hartmann was right on target. He brought up how Page stepped over Hazel Erby to become county executive. As to Page’s new-found concern about issues concerning the black community, Hartman wrote: “The facts are not on his side and it’s too late to make them up.” But it seems Page will keep on trying and the Post doesn’t cover the issue much at all. North County residents still wonder why nothing is being done with the old Jamestown Mall, which has been a very big eyesore for years. Page just blames Stenger.

►  The Fanny Lou Hamer organization, a group of mostly North County elected officials formed in 2014 to opposed the re-election of Steve Stenger, endorsed Jake Zimmerman a few weeks ago. What was noteworthy is the group’s chair has been Hazel Erby. The Post did not give the endorsement any coverage.

►  Jeremy Kohler did a story on August 28, 2019 headlined, “Whistleblowers get protection in St. Louis County — along with a hotline to report misconduct.” On July 5 this tweet was from Councilman Tim Fitch: “Next month will be a full year since this law was passed. The Interim County Executive still hasn’t implemented the hotline. Why not???” It now seems the county executive is going ahead with a contract to hire a firm to handle the hotline. But it seems the matter was forgotten by the Post-Dispatch.

►  The County Council just passed a one-year, $2 million food contract for the County Jail with Trinity Services Group. Trinity has had troubles all over the country, some of them quite serious. There were media reports that the company served maggot-infested food, violated labor laws and failed to adequately staff jail kitchens. Trinity was fined more than $2 million by the Michigan Department of Corrections in 2017 for a variety of offenses. The issues surrounding Trinity were brought up at Council meetings in early May and numerous times after but the matter was ignored by Jeremy Kohler. When he was on furlough and the issue was brought up again, this time at a council committee meeting on June 16, it was finally covered by the Post-Dispatch. A reporter filling in for Kohler did a lengthy story on the matter.

►  In looking into the County Jail food contract, it was found the Director of Justice Services for St. Louis County, Raul Banasco, has had problems in his past. When he was the jail manager at Osceola County, Florida he resigned after several problems were found at the jail in 2010. He was also named as a defendant in a lawsuit having to do with the death of an inmate at the jail in 2009. Did the Page administration know about his past? What about the Post-Dispatch? The newspaper can go looking through court records having to do with McCloskey matters going back to 1976. But it seems to not have done basic due diligence on someone appointed to a critical job in St. Louis County government.

The publisher and editor of the Post-Dispatch are currently leading an effort to increase subscriptions to the paper, touting how the paper keeps readers well informed. Yet the paper has done an inconsistent job covering St. Louis County government and County Executive Sam Page. Readers might know more about the McCloskeys than they do Sam Page and the election is August 4.

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