St. Louis County Executive Sam Page knows something about opacity – not to mention deceit – in county government contracting and expenditures. Eleven months ago almost to the day, he leaked to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch a federal subpoena that the County Council had been served regarding county contracts. The target was Steve Stenger, then the county executive. The leak of the subpoena made the federal investigation of Stenger public, and the assistant U.S. attorney working the case had little choice but to wrap up his investigation and seek charges.
As a result, the COVID-19 pandemic caught Stenger in federal prison. Page, a council member when he leaked the subpoena and hastened Stenger’s downfall last March, is now county executive. So, it is Page and not Stenger who will oversee how the county spends the $173 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds that were disbursed on April 22.
Actually, the sum is $173,481,105.80 to the penny. It’s possible to be exact because the Page administration released an image of the wire transfer – along with the announcement of a transparency portal to track all spending and contracts associated with the county’s response to the COVID-19 crisis at stlcorona.com.
According to the portal, that money is already spent and then some. On April 23, when the portal was announced, the county was reporting nearly $6 million in funds already committed to the COVID-19 crisis. But Page intends to direct the new federal funds towards new expenditures: “purchasing tests, tests and more tests,” he stated in the release.
At the opening of a new COVID-19 testing site at the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis center in Jennings on April 21, Page said this spending should be “equitable not equal” – that is, allocated proportionate to need. COVID-19 is having a disproportionate impact in black communities.
As of April 23, according to the county, 40.2% of positive tests in the county were of black people and 36.8% were of people who identified as two or more races. Blacks form only 24.9% of the county’s population. Though the county has stopped transparently reporting raw numbers for death by race, it reports that the death rate for COVID-19 for blacks was more than three times that of whites.
Page will take his spending priorities back to the County Council on Tuesday.
Expenditures of the funds will be overseen by the U.S. Department of Treasury and a special inspector general, according to federal guidelines released on April 22.
“We must follow the federal rules we were given,” Page said in a release. “Otherwise, we would have to reimburse the federal government for any expenses that did not fit those guidelines.”
To follow COVID-19, visit www.stlcorona.com and click on “COVID-19 Spending.”