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St. Louis Airport Privatization Working Group Fires Embattled Spokesman Douglass Petty

Taken at Bishop Du Bourg High School on 06/27/19
File photo | Corinne Ruff | St. Louis Public Radio
Douglass Petty, communications manager for the St. Louis Airport Advisory Working Group, gives a presentation at a neighborhood association meeting in June.

Updated at 1 p.m., Sept. 11, with confirmation from the St. Louis Airport Advisory Working Group

Douglass Petty, the communications manager of the St. Louis Airport Advisory Working Group, has been fired, the head of the group confirmed Wednesday. 

Paul Payne, who is also the St. Louis budget director, said Petty is no longer a spokesman for the group, nor is he employed by the St. Louis Development Corporation. Beyond that, Payne said the issue is a personnel matter.

Petty sent an email Monday just after 7 p.m. with the subject line “Terminated As Of Now,” according to an email obtained by St. Louis Public Radio.

The reason for Petty’s termination has not been released, however, last month Petty’s credibility came into question.

The ‘Dominique’ call

During a St. Louis on the Air show about airport privatization last month, questions arose immediately as to whether a caller who identified himself as “Dominique” was really Petty.

“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.”

Members of the working group were invited to participate on the show but canceled days before, citing a schedule conflict. 

In a call after the program, Petty said he listened to the show live with city officials and perceived it as unbalanced. In the weeks since, he has repeatedly said when he calls into radio shows he uses his name, because he has “nothing to hide.”

But Petty has never directly denied to St. Louis Public Radio that he called into the St. Louis on the Air program.

St. Louis Public Radio has been unable to obtain its call log from AT&T, but the radio station did have a forensic audio analysis performed that concluded 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.

He has formally consulted on more than 30 audio forensic investigations and testified as an expert witness in federal and state courts. 

In his analysis, Maher created a spectrogram to compare the pronunciation, cadence and pitch of the speech patterns in both audio files.

Maher also lined up distinct words frequently used in both pieces of audio, including process, premature, time, position and due diligence.

An audio analysis comparing the voices of Douglass Petty and "Dominique."

“The majority of the evidence based on the waveforms would indicate that it’s the same talker,” Maher said.

Following the voice analysis, St. Louis Public Radio contacted Petty again. In an email last week, he expressed frustration over numerous requests from different people seeking clarity on the issue.

He said his final comment on the issue is “the truth is all that matters.”

Petty did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

Since starting in his role in March, he has repeatedly framed his position as one built on honesty and transparency. The Airport Advisory Working Group as a whole has been frequently accused of a lack of transparency in the process because most of the discussion takes place in closed session.

Petty was hired by the St. Louis Development Corporation, or SLDC, to report directly to the working group. According to an invoice obtained from the department, Petty made nearly $37,500 between March and June.

The entity was reimbursed by Grow Missouri. The organization, funded by local billionaire Rex Sinquefield, has so far paid for the process of exploring airport privatization but will be reimbursed if the city moves forward and leases the airport. 

SLDC employees are not technically city employees, though Petty had a city email address.

Otis Williams, executive director of SLDC, said Tuesday, “These are personnel matters, and we don't comment on those.”

The next working group meeting is Thursday.

Follow Corinne on Twitter:@corinnesusan

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org

Corinne is the economic development reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.