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The Midwest Newsroom is a partnership between NPR and member stations to provide investigative journalism and in-depth reporting with a focus on Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska.

After aldermanic indictments, St. Louis development agency wants help shaping up its practices

Downtown St. Louis Arch
Rachel Lippmann
/
St. Louis Public Radio
The St. Louis Development Corporation, an agency with a hand in shaping the city's real estate development, wants consultants to help improve its business practices.

The St. Louis Development Corporation wants to hire consultants to revamp its business practices after the sale of one its properties led to the indictment of an alderman last month.

SLDC’s board voted Thursday to issue a request for proposals seeking consultation and review of the corporation’s internal operations.

"Staff of St. Louis Development Corporation have become aware of the significant necessity to obtain advice from an industry professional regarding best management and operation practices to govern the operations of the corporation," a letter to the board of directors from the corporation read.

A federal grand jury in April issued subpoenas to SLDC for records associated with the sale of two properties owned by the Land Reutilization Authority (LRA), an agency under SLDC that takes over tax delinquent properties and markets them for sale.

In May, a federal grand jury indicted 22nd Ward Alderman Jeffrey Boyd for allegedly pressuring SLDC staff to sell an LRA property well below its value to a local businessman, who was not named in the indictment, in exchange for bribes and favors.

Boyd resigned shortly after the indictment was unsealed and made public on June 2. Lewis Reed, St. Louis Board of Alderman president, and John Collins-Muhammad also face federal charges for accepting bribes from the same businessman on an separate real estate deal.

All three aldermen have resigned from office. They have all entered not guilty pleas.

The agency froze sales of all LRA properties until October as it reevaluates its procedures..

Consultants will help the SLDC track its different incentives, initiatives and projects, according to executive director Neal Richardson.

"Our goal is to ensure that we're being more transparent, more consistent and more readily responsive to the needs of our partners, customers and communities," Richardson said.

The resolution said consultants would improve SLDC’s workflow, document retention practices and help investigate inefficiencies at the agency, among other things.

Richardson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on further details on the need for consultants.

Sara Freetly, a spokesperson with SLDC's contracted public relations firm Candid Marketing, said operational reform at the corporation has been a priority since Richardson was hired in June 2021.

Alderwoman Marlene Davis said hiring consultants was a good move following recent "rhetoric" surrounding the SLDC from "various things that have taken place."

"What most people do not understand is that when you have an operation like SLDC and CDA (St. Louis Community Development Administration) and even the board of aldermen, you are going to have some problems at some point," Davis said during Thursday’s meeting of the SLDC board. "The best thing you can do is have as many checks and balances as possible."

Earlier this year, Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway released audit findings on the St. Louis Development Corporation that found no significant problems.

However, auditors found issues with internal accounting procedures that needed improvement at the LRA and problems with issuing receipts for application fees to developers. The audit also recommended LRA update decade-old pricing policies.

Kavahn Mansouri is the Midwest Newsroom’s investigative reporter. Follow him on Twitter: @kavahnmansouri

The Midwest Newsroom is an investigative journalism collaboration including St. Louis Public Radio, KCUR, Iowa Public Radio, Nebraska Public Media and NPR.

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