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Friday, July 20, 2012

Burns' Hiring Just Business as Usual in St. Louis County

Executive Editor - Call Newspapers

July 18, 2012 - It's easy to understand why the public has grown cynical about public officials and the political process.

A perfect example is the contention of St. Louis County Economic Council officials that Dean Burns was the best candidate for the council's vice president of real estate and community development position.

Sixth District County Councilman Steve Stenger, D-Affton, told the Call's Kari Williams that Economic Council officials said they looked "all over the country" and the "most qualified person they could find for this job is a convicted felon."

"That just simply can't be," Stenger said. "I question the truthfulness of that statement. I think what they're trying to do is put perfume on a pig."

Burns pleaded guilty in 1999 to transferring nearly $30,000 of Housing and Urban Development funds to his own company in 1994. Ironically, when he pleaded guilty in 1999, Burns worked for the Economic Council — believe it or not — as vice president of real estate and community development.

Shortly after Burns entered this guilty plea in 1999, then-County Executive "Buzz" Westfall said Burns should resign — which Burns did.

Now 13 years later, Burns is back in his old post. We believe Stenger hit the nail on the head when he said, "I think that this is another example of political favoritism and cronyism."

Not surprisingly, Katy Jamboretz, vice president of marketing and communications for the Economic Council, said Burns' hiring "couldn't be any less of a political cronyism story."

Certainly Jamboretz understands the meaning of "political cronyism," especially given the fact that before she was hired by the Economic Council, she served as spokeswoman for County Executive Charlie Dooley's 2010 re-election campaign.

But there's plenty of blame to go around, starting with Economic Council President and CEO Denny Coleman.

Under Coleman's watch, Burns now has been hired twice. In fact, in a news release, Coleman termed Burns' employment "... A very strategic hire."

Then there's Dooley, whose administration is riddled with political hires and cronyism. Given that Coleman serves at Dooley's pleasure, we're surprised the county executive hasn't called for Burns to resign.

Perhaps Stenger said it best: "I think that at a minimum (Burns' hiring) has the appearance of impropriety, and I don't think that the taxpayers of St. Louis County, for what they pay for their government, deserve even the appearance of impropriety."

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