CLAYTON — A St. Louis County investigation of a Jan. 10 email from a public health employee that included a link to County Executive Sam Page’s campaign website concluded that the link was a “error,” according to officials.
In the original email, dated Jan. 10, Damon Broadus, county director of health promotion and public health research, included a link to Page’s campaign website as well as information about a county effort to collect reports of home test results. The email was a follow-up response to a local nonprofit representative who asked about home testing; Broadus included the link in a paragraph of the email:
“Finally, each week, the County Executive’s Office does its best to help residents stay up-to-date with county news. “There is a newsletter with helpful resources you can sign up for… .” The sentence ended with the link.
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The county declined to release the internal report on the email, saying the investigation is a staff matter and therefore closed under state open records laws. The county on Wednesday denied a Post-Dispatch reporter’s request for the report.
But, in a statement, the county said the investigation revealed that a second anonymous employee had included the campaign link in two other public health emails regarding COVID-19.
Rochelle Walton Gray, a former adviser Page hired in 2020 to lead vaccine outreach, sent the emails on January 11 and 12 to more than 50 other email addresses, including those of representatives of the Louis-area state, representatives of nonprofit organizations and some religious leaders, according to copies obtained through a records request.
Gray had copied paragraphs from Broadus’ January 10 email that included the paragraph with the link to Page’s campaign, and appended them to lengthy emails that included a notice of a mask warrant. county and suggested protective measures against COVID-19, a new public health department video on the omicron variant push, and a report on the county’s latest immunization numbers.
The original Jan. 10 email was the subject of a complaint to the county council of a possible violation of laws prohibiting the use of public resources for political campaigning. Jane Dueker, a lawyer and frequent Page critic, accused the Department of Health of intentionally including the link. A county council ethics committee discussed the complaint on February 25 and said it would hold another hearing into the matter.
At the time, Department of Public Health spokesman Chris Ave said the email “erroneously included a link to a campaign website”, adding that the department would investigate “as a matter of staff”.
The health department said in a statement Friday that the investigation was complete and that Broadus “believed the link allowed recipients to register for information from a government office — not a political campaign.”
“Both employees acknowledged that they had made a mistake by sharing a link that they had not fully identified, and both asserted that they understood the county’s policy prohibiting campaign activity.”
“The investigation concluded that the case involved an error by the first employee that was exacerbated by an error by the second employee. No evidence was found that anyone intentionally distributed the link or encouraged the distribution of the link.”
Ave, in response to a request for comment, said the summary of the report “details specific disciplinary action involving an employee or employees. This is therefore a personnel matter, and our practice is not to disclose personnel information”.
“As we said, we have found, based on an internal investigation, that the link was provided in error, and the employees involved have acknowledged this error. We have found no evidence that anyone else has shared this link or encouraged anyone to share it. All DPH employees have been reminded of the county’s employee code of conduct and, in particular, the county’s guidelines limiting political activity.”