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St. Louis County Council Will Hear More From Economic Development Agency

St. Louis County Councilman Sam Page, a member of the council's ethics committee, talks to St. Louis County Economic Development Partnership board members Karlos Ramirez, left and Kathy Osborn, center, after the two testified to the committee on Jan. 15,
Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio

The chair of the board that oversees economic development in the St. Louis region is pledging to increase communication with the St. Louis County Council.

Karlos Ramirez, who is also president and CEO of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, told the council’s ethics committee Tuesday that the board was not aware the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership was supposed to regularly communicate with the council until recently.

Ramirez said the board has made it clear to interim partnership CEO Rodney Crim that he needs to regularly inform the council of the partnership’s activities. “And quite frankly, it wasn’t a challenge. I think Rodney is very ready and willing and able to move us past this issue.”

Crim took over as CEO earlier this month, after the board ousted Sheila Sweeney. Ramirez at the time said the board had determined that “a new direction is necessary to fulfill our mission of building this region’s economic engine.”

The County Council has been investigating the partnership’s finances and contracting processes since July. An investigation published last month in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch raised questions about whether Sweeney helped direct economic-development business to donors of County Executive Steve Stenger. He has denied wrongdoing. 

Council member Ernie Trakas, a south St. Louis County Republican and chair of the ethics commission, said Tuesday’s hearing was meant to be “foundational,” to get an understanding from board members about what they thought the partnership’s obligations were to the County Council when it came to oversight.

“And I think it’s clear today that they all acknowledged that there was an obligation to communicate with us, and that had not happened,” Trakas said. “And so now we’re going to get into the particulars about why it didn’t happen, when it didn’t happen, and what that lack of communication may have meant when it comes to the awarding of contracts and what have you.”

Trakas said he was encouraged by the testimony of Ramirez and two other board members, who he said are committed to “righting the ship.” Ramirez said in a statement afterward that the partnership board is “fully cooperating with the Council Council,” and that the board was also conducting a “comprehensive review of operations.”

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

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