I found Dick Fleming hiding from me behind a stack of blue milk crates and file cabinets in the service hallway at the Chase Park Plaza. When I approached him Fleming went on the attack, repeatedly calling me "hostile," "belligerent," and "rude."
Keep in mind we didn't even question Fleming about David Z. Levin, the self-proclaimed psychic Fleming used for years as a highly paid consultant. After a scandal erupted over Levin's role at the RCGA, the chamber stopped using him. Levin still has Fleming's recommendation posted on his website.
It's not exactly where you expect to find the CEO of the regional chamber of commerce. And, it's not quite the reaction you expect to get when you ask what seem to be fair questions.
Richard Fleming runs one of the largest chambers of commerce in the country. He is powerful, well-connected and seemingly a tireless worker committed to promoting the St. Louis area. Fleming is also one of the highest paid chamber executives in America. Based on the RCGA's 2008 and 2009 990 tax filings, Fleming was the highest paid chamber president in the country receiving $1.8 million in salary, bonuses and multi-year deferred compensation. It's an astounding sum considering the St. Louis area isn't among the top 20 markets, and job growth in the region has been flat for the last two decades.
How does Fleming's pay compare to other chamber executives? Our investigation found that based only on salary the top executive at the Atlanta chamber was the highest paid in the country earning more than $840,000 in both 2008 and 2009, much higher than any other chamber executive, including Fleming. However, Fleming earned more based on his combined pay. Even without the multi-year deferred benefits, Fleming was among the five highest paid in the U.S.
The RCGA did provide me with a copy of its 990 tax filing, which is a document requiring non-profits to reveal some of their spending, including executive compensation. Sometimes, those documents raise even more questions about the organization. When I saw the amount RCGA spent on leased automobiles in 2009, more than $38,000, I thought I'd ask for Fleming's expense reports, too. After all, if RCGA spends that much a year on cars, presumably for the chamber's executives, then Fleming must have some other perks, too. So, I thought I'd see how he spends the RCGA's money on himself.
I learned the RCGA doesn't qualify as a "quasi-government" agency, even by my loose definition. So, after consulting with our attorney, I decided to not appeal or sue when RCGA declined to provide those records. It didn't have to, and it didn't. Fair enough.
Still, I wanted an interview with Fleming about broader issues, and specifics like his pay and personal responsibilities. So, I sent a written request for an interview. The RCGA didn't respond to that request, or any of the repeated attempts to get an interview with Fleming during the next two months. Please keep in mind, Fleming is well-known for frequently appearing on-camera. It seemed a little odd that he was so determined to not be interviewed by me.
I approached him as he walked into a conference at the Chase last week. He was giving a presentation, but refused to be interviewed before his speech. I asked if he would talk to us later, but he didn't commit to it. After the session, he walked out the back door.
I found him hiding in that hallway, then confronted him on-camera, and quickly realized that Dick Fleming had no idea how ridiculous he looked at that moment. The CEO of the RCGA, and one of the most visible spokespersons for our community, appeared confused, mean-spirited and in desperate need to repeatedly insult me personally and professionally as he jabbed his finger toward my chest.
Fleming's performance was remarkably poor.