Public relations consultant paid $14,000 by county library for four months of work

Communications manager says she needed ‘backup’

By Gloria Lloyd

A St. Louis County Library official told the Board of Trustees last week that the library paid a public relations consulting firm $14,000 for four months of work.

Finance Manager Kris Mooney reported the library paid the money to Centrex Strategies.

Last September, library trustees unanimously approved hiring Centrex to provide a website, social-media updates and possibly public-relations crisis management services to the library to promote its 10-year facilities plan, in a contract good for the entire decade of the plan.

The library has a clause to exit the contract if it elects to, library Executive Director Kristen Sorth said.

At the time of the vote, board member Stephen Sachs noted that the bidding firms had quoted hourly rates for services and wondered how many hours a month the library predicted it would use Centrex’s services.

Sorth told Sachs that she predicted they would use Centrex for roughly 20 hours of work a month, although Centrex would first set up a website to promote the facilities plan, which might take more hours.

Before the vote, board Vice President Edith Cunnane of Creve Coeur, who once served on the County Council and was attending the library meeting by telephone, asked for more information about how Centrex would work on the library’s behalf.

“In this firm, will there be one person specifically assigned to this?” she asked.

“Yes, there is one person assigned to this project,” Sorth replied.

Centrex is a one-person agency owned by Lou Hamilton, library Communications Manager Jennifer McBride said. He worked in public relations for Anheuser-Busch for three decades, is currently a lobbyist for the St. Louis Cardinals at the St. Louis City Council and has consulted for politicians, including St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay.

Hamilton provided the Missouri History Museum with crisis-management public relations in the wake of scandals that arose over former director Robert Archibald’s compensation and land bought from former St. Louis Mayor Freeman Bosley Jr.

Hamilton has been working on the website since September, Sorth said, and his contract is for 20 hours a month.

The $14,000 Hamilton was paid equals an hourly rate of $175 if he worked 20 hours each month for the library.

Since bond proceeds cannot be used for public relations, the money is coming out of the library’s operating funds, Assistant Director of Adult and Support Services Barbara Brain said.

The website pages Hamilton is developing to promote the facilities plan will be up and running this spring, McBride said. The website will include information on the facilities plan, renderings of the proposed libraries, a blog, a set of frequently asked questions about the projects, a sign-up form to receive email updates and a feedback form, she added.

Some of the website pages now have to be revised since the Fenton Board of Aldermen rejected the library’s proposed rezoning for the new Meramec Valley Branch in January, Sorth noted.

“They will eventually help us with the launch (of the new buildings),” McBride said. “If we’re going to do media around the new projects, if we’re going to do site tours, things like that — they’re kind of a general public-relations consultation service.”

McBride said she would not be able to handle those extra duties in her role as communications manager for time-management reasons.

“I’m one person, and I’m responsible for all 20 of our locations, so I didn’t feel that I could handle this project solo,” she said. “I needed some backup.”

Besides the website, the library hired Hamilton to provide public relations and, potentially, crisis management for the library’s facilities plan. He will also promote the plan to the public, through the website and social media.

The library evaluates bids it receives on experience, technical competence, past experience and fees, looking for the “best-qualified firm with the lowest reasonable fee,” Sorth said.

She added that library officials see the new website, which will be part of the library’s own website, as a way to be accessible to the public, but they could not put the website up before zoning because the library did not yet own the properties it is set to build the new libraries on.

“We get questions all the time about the projects,” she said. “I know there’s a lot of excitement with the building process — we want to give them every opportunity we can to get updates. We wanted to be cautious until we own the property and then once we do, we’re more comfortable about putting information out there.”

Hamilton did not return a call seeking comment before the Call’s press time.