CLAYTON – An e-mail from the government of St. Louis County, which responded to a local nonprofit group seeking information on COVID-19 testing, included a link to a County Executive Sam Page campaign website.
Email was the subject of a study by the county council’s ethics committee Thursday into a complaint that the Pages administration violated laws banning the use of public resources for political campaigns.
Damon Broadus, the county’s public health director for health promotion and public research, sent the January 10 email with information about a county’s efforts to collect reports on home test results.
Broadus ’email added that Pages’ office “is doing its best to help residents stay ahead of the news in the county.” It included a link to sign up for a page campaign newsletter.
Department of Public Health spokesman Chris Ave said in a statement that the email “incorrectly contained a link to a campaign site.”
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“The inclusion of that link was incorrect and should never have occurred. Before the error was captured, the content of the email, including the link, was sent to other people. DPH is investigating the situation as a personnel matter,” Ave said.
Page spokesman Doug Moore said in a statement that Dr. Faisal Khan, acting director of public health, “informed Dr. Page that a staff investigation is underway to determine what happened.”
Moore said Page found out the email Wednesday.
For the past two years, Dr. Page has at his weekly press conferences referred residents to county-run sites that offer information about COVID-19, among others. ReviveSTL.comwhere residents can find information on tests and vaccines. “
The January 10 email read in its entirety: “You may have seen Dr. Page’s press conference from last Friday, if not it can be viewed here: https://youtu.be/2JHN0gAeSl4?t=854 – he shares the information below:
** How to report the results of COVID-19 tests at home to DPH: If you have performed tests at home and are positive, you can report the results to the Department of Public Health. A number of residents who tested positive for COVID on a home covid test have asked if they should report their results to DPH. DPH has set up an email account for those who wish to report a positive COVID test result. The email is [email protected].
Finally, the County Administrative Board does its best every week to help residents stay on top of the news in the County. There is a newsletter with useful resources that you can sign up for: https://bit.ly/3nijXBs”
The January 10 email was a follow-up to an email Jan. 5 from a local nonprofit CEO requesting information about COVID-19 testing at home in northern St. Louis. Louis County. The email, which also copied Councilwomen Rita Days and Shalonda Webb, was sent to Broadus and Rochelle Walton Gray, a former City Councilwoman Page hired in 2020 to conduct vaccine outreach.
Gray postponed to Broadus and removed Days and Webb from the email thread. Broadus informed the nonprofit organization that the county did not have a way to report test results at home at the time, but said it would provide no updates if that changed.
He sent an e-mail again on January 10, a few days after Page held a press conference announcing that the Department of Public Health had created a new e-mail address to receive test reports at home.
Jane Dueker, a lawyer and frequent and outspoken critic of the Page administration, sent a complaint over the email to the council’s ethics committee, claiming it represented an “overt and manifestly inappropriate redirection of public resources for campaign purposes.”
Dueker told a journalist Thursday that the email was sent to her by a “whistleblower” but declined to give more details.
She said she doubted the Department of Public Health’s explanation that the link was included by mistake.
“How can that be a mistake?” she said. “It’s a shining line that you never, ever use public resources for campaigns, ever.”
Ave said the department was unaware of the connection until Councilman Mark Harder, chairman of the ethics committee, revealed that the complaint had been made in a letter dated February 16 and included on the council’s public agenda this week.
After Khan asked, Harder’s office sent them the email Wednesday, Ave.
Asked how the department knew the link was added by mistake, Ave said, “the person involved did not know the link went to a campaign site.”
Broadus and Gray did not return messages seeking comment.
During the council hearing, Councilor Tim Fitch, R-3rd District, urged the council to issue subpoenas and record requests for other emails with the link.
“I’m sure we have the ability to search all county emails in our system,” he said.
Harder agreed, saying he would schedule another ethics committee meeting.
The recipient of the January 10 e-mail, the president of North County Inc., Rebecca Zoll, said she had opened the link to the e-mail but had not done more with it and had no more contact with county officials about that.
She was unaware that the email was the subject of council discussion until a journalist called Thursday, she said. She had not been contacted by any councilor or anyone else about it.
Zoll is part of a North County volunteer outreach group formed in 2020 to share information on any COVID-19 vaccine and test events, she said. The organization has a strict policy against supporting election campaigns or sharing campaign information.
The next email that Zoll received from Broadus on January 25 contained a link to ReviveSTL and did not refer to previous communications, according to a copy seen by a reporter.
Originally posted at 13.45. Updated at 18.45