A St. Louis County Council committee on Thursday launched a probe of the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership and St. Louis County Port Authority that will examine the agencies’ procurement policies and real estate transactions.
Led by Councilman Ernie Trakas, R-south St. Louis County, the council’s ethics committee is expected to request financial records and other documents from the economic development agencies as well as call its officials to testify. Trakas said it will be similar to the probe of the Northwest Plaza lease earlier this year, a multimillion-dollar deal that moved county offices to property owned by big campaign donors of St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, a Democrat.
A group that has gotten several favorable deals from the Partnership ran their proposals past Director Sheila Sweeney before submitting them.
St. Louis County Port Authority funds a lot of projects. Very few of them have anything to do with ports.
Johnny Little, a public relations professional who bid on a controversial $130,000 marketing contract the Port Authority awarded to Stenger donor John Rallo’s Cardinal Creative Consulting, said at the hearing that he was there to speak for minority-owned firms “that are constantly overlooked.”
Rallo’s firm won the contract to market the region in the wake of the Ferguson unrest by touting his ties to former TV host Montel Williams, but Williams said last week he had no ownership in the firm and was paid less than $10,000. The Partnership marked Cardinal Creative as a minority-owned firm in its procurement documents, but Rallo is white.
The celebrity said he only learned the value of a St. Louis County Port authority contract touting his participation from Post-Dispatch reporting.
“Sheila Sweeney and her team chose Cardinal Creative without having one conversation with me,” Little said, emphasizing his marketing work for north St. Louis County school districts and the city of Ferguson.
Trakas said the committee should issue records requests next week and that the process will take several months.
Partnership spokeswoman Katy Jamboretz did not respond to requests for comment.