In the past seven years, has gotten more money for parks from the St. Louis County Park Grants Commission than any other municipality, raking in $1.45 million. The next closest cites were Florissant, Kirkwood and Webster Groves.
From 2003 to 2010, the nine members of the Park Grants Commission awarded $24.7 million in grants, total.
Who administers the money? The staff of the St. Louis County Municipal League runs the administration of the Grants Commission. The Municipal League is a lobbying group to look out for the interest of municipalities in Jefferson City and with the County Council. If you live in a municipality you are paying for the staff through dues charged to member cities. Commission members are elected by mayors within each county council district.
Where does the money come from? The St. Louis County Park Grants are funded by 20 percent of a one-tenth-cent sales tax collected by the Great Rivers Greenway district.
Where does it go? It goes only to municipalities (cities, towns.) Thirty percent of the tax already goes to the County Parks and Recreation department.
Biggest Secret: Parks Commission meetings are hard to locate, and not posted on any website, just a hard copy on one bulletin board in Clayton.
The Parks Commission March meeting was at the Creve Coeur City Hall. If someone had not told me about the meeting, I never would have known about it.
The St. Louis County Municipal Park Grants Commission has a website, but they don’t post when and where meetings are, or the agendas, or the minutes!
It sure looks like they don’t want the public involved.
I asked two staff members at a meeting about finding it difficult to locate a meeting, and I got two different responses.
- Tim Fischesser, the executive director of the Municipal League and the Grants Administrator of the Parks Grants Commission said I have a point and they needed to look into posting more information on the site.
- However, Municipal League staff associate James Mello, who apparently is in charge of meeting the Sunshine Law requirements, snapped at me saying he posted the meeting notice on a bulletin board.
I fired back: Did he expect citizens to drive to Clayton to randomly check bulletin boards at the Government Center, to see whether any Park Grants Commission meetings were scheduled?
He said nothing.
So I asked Mello again after the meeting about making it easier for citizens to know about the Parks Grants Commission meetings, and he said it wasn’t his job to do anything with the website.
Three members of the Commission I spoke to said they thought it was a good idea to post meeting dates and agendas on its website.
Because currently, once you are lucky enough to find out when and where a meeting is being held, there are no printed copies of the agenda or proposals available for the public.
One commissioner pointed out that if just one member of the public showed up for a meeting—it was a large crowd!
On this day there were three reporters, three elected officials, a city administrator, a member of a special task force and four other members of the public.
During the meeting, I found out there is a bureaucracy within the Park Grants Commission which is an advisory board under the commission. These members are appointed by the Commission members.
There is a vacancy and Tim Fischesser mentioned they need a person from West County on the advisory board. He continued that while Chesterfield is the largest city in the West County area, Chesterfield does not have a Parks Director. He added instead they have a Parks Superintendent who is under the Public Works Director.
It sounded as if despite getting plenty of grants, Chesterfield was being penalized for having a streamlined cost efficient government without excessive numbers of departments and department heads.
No desire to hear from the pubic
At this meeting, there was a hot button issue where the Town and Country Board of Alderman in a split vote requested a grant for engineering services to add parking to a park. There had been overwhelming opposition to this at public forums, Aldermanic meetings and even a petition.
During the meeting the public was allowed to speak. While several people spoke in opposition to the Commission giving a grant, Commissioners were clearly giving them the stink eye. Eventually Commissioner Dennis Novak, former Ellisville mayor, told the people that the Commission didn’t care what their thoughts were.
"This is a county wide commission. When we get an application from a municipality we have a criteria that we use, how the county money should be spent wisely. Quite honestly, if there are any issues with how the money is spent, they are usually resolved within that municipality before it comes to us," Novak added. "If there is a problem with what is submitted to us, it needs to be handled at the municipal level.”
Apparently all you have to do to get a grant is apply for it. This Commission does not look and see if your application is worthy to have tax money spent on it.
I spoke up and asked “Why do you exist?” I added it was insulting to think a public commission is telling the public that it doesn’t want its input.
After the meeting, Novak told me that public comments were “not applicable” for the commissioners to make a decision or even consider.
After the public was properly shut up, a total of eight grant applications from eight different cities were voted on and passed. There was no discussion if these projects seemed practical and a good use of tax money. There also was no apparent investigation if the applications were a good use of funds.
The commission hired the administrator of the St. Louis County Municipal League to run the commission. In other words, municipalities hired themselves to dole out tax money to themselves—such a racket.