Late last month, a person who identified himself as Dominique called St. Louis on the Air to weigh in on a discussion about airport privatization.
“I think that right now it might be premature one way or the other to try to draw some conclusions simply because it’s a process that’s not been concluded,” Dominique said on the air. “There is no decision at this point.”
Even as Dominique spoke, questions arose about whether the caller was really Douglass Petty, the communications manager for the St. Louis airport advisory working group. While St. Louis Public Radio so far has been unable to obtain its call log from AT&T, the radio station did have a forensic audio analysis performed that shows Dominique was “very likely” Petty.
“I would consider it more likely than not,” said Rob Maher, a voice recognition expert and professor at Montana State University.
Meanwhile, Petty, who has touted the transparency of the working group that is considering whether to lease St. Louis Lambert International Airport to a private entity, has sidestepped the question of whether he was the caller in question.
Called after the program, Petty said he listened to the show live with other city officials and perceived it as unbalanced.
When asked whether that was the reason he called in, he said, “That’s not why I called in.” He said that when he calls into radio shows he uses his name, because he has “nothing to hide.” He’s never directly denied to St. Louis Public Radio that he made the call.
Comparing the voices
Maher, the voice recognition expert, has formally consulted on more than 30 audio forensic investigations and testified as an expert witness in a civil matter in federal court as well as four state criminal trials.
Using recordings of the Dominique call and a phone interview with Petty from June, Maher created a spectrogram. He describes it as a special graph that can be used to compare pronunciation, cadence and pitch.
Maher also lined up distinct words frequently used in both pieces of audio, including: process, premature, time, position and due diligence.
“These characteristics of the speech, the certain phraseology, the pronunciation, the emphasis, the pitch — those things are all very comparable. And then that would lead to a conclusion that there’s a likely match between the two.”
Without other evidence, like a phone log, Maher said there is no way to prove with 100% confidence that Petty called in using the name Dominique, but he added that the audio comparison points to the likelihood.
“The majority of the evidence based on the waveforms would indicate that it’s the same talker,” he said.
St. Louis Public Radio continues to work to get the phone log from AT&T to verify the number used to place the call.
But other details also point to Petty being the caller. For instance, Dominique described himself as a consultant who works “with for-profit and nonprofit, whether school districts or for-profit businesses.”
Petty previously served as assistant to St. Louis Public Schools Superintendent Kelvin Adams for two years, and in other roles with the district on and off for shorter periods of time.
While Petty said he was listening to the show with others at City Hall and said he found the conversation “wasn’t balanced,” he would not disclose the names of the other listeners he was with.
Members of the working group, including Deputy Mayor for Development Linda Martinez and Alderwoman Marlene Davis, D-19th Ward, were invited to participate in the radio program. LeJuan Strickland, a FLY 314 consultant with Metropolitan Strategies and Solutions, confirmed on their behalf. Days before the show, however, he informed the show’s producers of a schedule conflict.
But at a working group meeting last week, Strickland said the city officials did not participate because Davis felt it was a “premature” conversation.
Also during that meeting, St. Louis Budget Director Paul Payne — who directs the working group — asked Petty to explain what happened with the radio show.
“What I’ve said is, I really don’t have a problem in giving my name about conversations because I call talk shows or anything all the time, so I don’t have any problem,” Petty said during the public meeting. “I am a citizen of St. Louis, and I am sensitive to issues, so there’s nothing to hide.”
‘The truth is all that matters’
Following the voice analysis, St. Louis Public Radio contacted Petty again. In an email, he expressed frustration over numerous requests from different people seeking clarity on the issue.
He then said his final comment on the issue is “the truth is all that matters.”
Payne said Wednesday he hasn’t listened to the call on St. Louis on the Air. But, he said he previously asked Petty whether he was the caller.
“Look, I can only look at the person, ask the question and then I give them that ability to represent themselves and he responded. And I have to take that for what it is, and I don’t know what else at this point to pursue any further.”
In a statement Wednesday, Mayor Lyda Krewson said that if it’s true Petty was the caller and he denied it, the behavior is “completely unprofessional.”
“After that, it would be a personnel matter we couldn't comment on,” she said.
Who is Douglass Petty?
Petty was hired into his role as the communications manager for the city’s airport advisory working group in March by the St. Louis Development Corporation.
In a statement Wednesday, SLDC spokesman John Parker said Petty is supervised by the airport working group. “It would be inappropriate to comment on the matter,” he said.
SLDC employees are not technically city employees, though Petty does have a city email address.
According to an invoice obtained from the department, Petty made nearly $37,500 between March and June.
SLDC writes Petty’s checks, though the entity is reimbursed by Grow Missouri. The organization, funded by local billionaire Rex Sinquefield, has been footing the bill for the privatization process. If the city ultimately decides to privatize the airport, Grow Missouri will be reimbursed.
Collectively, FLY 314 consultants have been paid $9.4 million since August 2018, according to quarterly payment certificates.
Petty’s employment through the SLDC is unique. All other consultants involved in the process are being paid directly by Grow Missouri.
Payne said Petty was hired in this way because that’s how the consulting contract with Grow Missouri outlined the process of hiring working group staff.
He added that the working group interviewed Petty for the position, though he couldn’t remember the credentials that landed Petty the job. “I would have to dig up the files,” he said.
According to Petty’s LinkedIn page, he has no previous experience as a communications manager. The online resume shows that Petty has been the president of Christian Counseling and Resource Consultants for nearly 25 years.
The resume shows that Petty taught general and abnormal psychology classes as an adjunct faculty member at Harris-Stowe State University in 2014 and 2015.
Since Petty started his role, he has repeatedly framed his position as one built on honesty and transparency.
He emphasized that point during a presentation at a neighborhood association meeting in June.
“My responsibility in being the communications manager for the work group, which you will find out about, that will be described; is that our responsibility is just to tell the truth about things exactly the way that they are,” he said.
One of the most frequent complaints from critics of airport privatization is that the process is one fraught with conflicts of interest and a lack of transparency.
The working group has hosted public meetings for more than a year now, but most of the discussion takes place in closed session. Several recent meetings have lasted less than 10 minutes before members voted to go into closed session.
Closed session topics frequently include negotiations with airlines, updates on an environmental report on the land around the airport and the status of a request for qualifications.
Petty, FLY 314 consultants and members of the working group have pushed back on the notion that there’s a lack of transparency in the process. They point to a transparency portal on the FLY 314 website. It contains public information such as videos of working group meetings and other documents.
“I would say we work hard to be transparent,” said Stephanie Lewis, a spokeswoman for Grow Missouri and FLY 314.
“We do the community meetings. We answer as many requests as we can to be a part of the community and engage the community. We will continue to do that.”
Lewis said she could not comment about Petty because he does not work for FLY 314 or Grow Missouri.
But the question of whether Petty called St. Louis on the Air under an assumed name has raised more concerns among those who've had reservations about the privatization process from the outset. Alderwoman Cara Spencer, D-20th Ward, took part in the show in question and said she finds Petty’s denial of placing the call disappointing.
“I think it just adds to my deep concerns about a complete lack of transparency and an unwillingness to have honest, open dialogue with the general public,” she said.
Hear Corinne Ruff talk with St. Louis on the Air's Sarah Fenske about reporting this story:
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