ST. LOUIS — St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura Jones announced she was suspending parking enforcement because of the COVID-19 crisis on March 16.
On April 10, less than one month later, she signed a $7 million contract with a company called Hudson and Associates to manage parking meter maintenance and enforcement, saying it will eventually save taxpayers $600,000.
But critics are questioning the timing of the agreement and its political connections to Jones. The city's attorney called the contract illegal.
Invoices obtained by 5 On Your Side show the company has submitted three bills between May 18 and June 2 totaling about $340,000.
So, why pay that much money to a company when parking enforcement was suspended through May 31?
Jones’ Chief-of-Staff Jared Boyd said the company spent time working “to transition a new ticket processing system in advance of the June 1 restart date.”
Boyd added that the contract is legitimate, as is the process Jones followed to execute it. Jones, who is Black, has suggested in newspapers that the attacks against her are both politically and, at times, racially motivated.
The issue heated up Thursday when the city’s Streets Committee voted unanimously to give itself subpoena powers to compel Jones and the company to supply documents and testify before them. That committee includes two Black men, two Black women, two white women and one white man.
The bulk of the city’s paid parking falls within Alderman Jack Coatar’s ward. He sponsored Thursday’s bill, which is expected to go before the full St. Louis City Board of Aldermen Friday for approval.
Coatar noted that the principal and CEO of Hudson and Associates is Sheila Hudson – a long-time campaign donor to Jones.
Campaign finance reports show Hudson has donated about $31,000 to Jones’ campaigns since 2013.
“After suspending parking operations in the spring due to COVID-19 concerns, the treasurer then entered into a $7 million three-year contract outsourcing on street parking operations to a private company without the approval of the Parking Commission, without the city counselor approving the contract as to form, without the comptroller certifying that funds are available to pay the contracts,” Coatar told 5 On Your Side. “That's concerning to me … so we're taking steps to investigate and look into this contract and the process in which it was I guess approved unilaterally by the treasurer.”
Boyd said the level of approvals contracts need to go through were only recently enacted due to a court ruling and that Jones has to wait until July 1 for the new protocol to take effect.
"We have submitted the Hudson and Associates contract to the Comptroller’s Office and have been told that this agreement will be certified in early July," he wrote.
Coatar argued that the court said county offices like the treasurer should have always been following the protocol. Some offices, including the treasurer’s, are still considered county offices under leftover laws that existed before the city and county separated.
City Counselor Julian Bush wrote a letter to the Streets Committee earlier this month saying the contract is illegal and, “The fact that one cannot obtain an approval that is required does not mean that obtaining that approval is excused."
Jones’ chief-of-staff added that her office has turned in more than 20 documents related to the contract and is unaware of any outstanding requests for information. Boyd also said the Streets Committee denied her the right to testify during Thursday’s hearing.
But Streets Committee members who voted in favor of subpoena powers said during Thursday's hearing that they have not received “sufficient” information on the matter from Jones.
“We’d like to delve into where and how these contracts came about and apparently we haven’t received sufficient answers especially about the Hudson one,” Alderwoman Beth Murphy said.
Alderwoman Sarah Martin said she spoke with Jones’ office and said she understood why she wanted to testify, but added they will have the opportunity to address the matter in the future.
Alderwoman Pamela Boyd said she didn’t have any problems with the bill.
“I guess we need to become more transparent and assured that everybody is doing what they need to be doing,” she said.
Alderman Brandon Bosley said he didn’t believe Jones was trying to be “intentionally evasive.”
“When there is any situation at all where the board has asked for sufficient information and we continue to ask for the information and don’t get it, we should not only play hardball with the Treasurer’s Office, we need to play hardball with everybody.”
Alderwoman Lisa Middlebrook added, “Transparency is important and it’s important that everyone get the chance to voice their say in what’s going on.”
Alderman Jeffrey Boyd, who chairs the committee, spoke last and said there was no need for public comment during Thursday’s hearing. Boyd is running against Jones for treasurer.
Jones addressed the issue during a recent editorial in the St. Louis American newspaper, noting Boyd has political reasons to attack her and that a recent editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch was racist, targeting her and the contractor because they are Black women.
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