Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Council Defends Its OK of Big Courthouse Tab; Structural Needs Left ' No Choice,' Member Says

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Council Defends Its OK of Big Courthouse Tab; Structural Needs Left ' No Choice,' Member Says

Article excerpt

CLAYTON * St. Louis County Council members say they saw no option but to sign off this week on an extra $29.5 million for court improvements.

Officials said a reassessment of the courthouse revealed structural, electrical and security defects that were either unapparent or have worsened since voters approved the $100 million project in April 2012.

"I felt there was no choice," said Councilwoman Hazel Erby, D- University City. "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 are elected to do."

In 2008, county voters turned aside a $120 million courthouse construction and renovation measure.

The council Tuesday night voted 6-0 to secure special obligation bonds, which do not require voter approval, to cover the higher price tag.

Erby was one of two council members to sign a wide-ranging agreement that included a promise not to divulge details of the "design-build procurement process" along with bid proposals and additional "proprietary information."

Council Chairwoman Kathleen Kelly Burkett, D-Overland, was the other member who signed the confidentiality agreement.

"It had nothing to do with the additional ($29.5 million)," Burkett said. "It had to do with the confidentiality of the process. Everything the council did was aboveboard."

St. Louis County Chief Operating Officer Garry Earls said Thursday it is not unusual to request that officials involved in the planning and bidding phases of design-build public projects take an oath of secrecy.

Council members in early May were asked to sign the agreement as it became clear additional bonds would be required to complete the courthouse improvements.

According to Earls, the five council members who balked at the agreement waived the right to learn of project details prior to the unsealing of the bids on July 17.

"We cannot talk about it because the bidding process is still going on," County Executive Charlie Dooley said Thursday. "There's secrecy so one bidder won't get an unfair advantage over another bidder."

Three firms currently intend to submit plans to the county KCI Construction of Lebanon, Mo. …

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