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Facing federal indictment, Reed resists calls to resign

The president of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen is under increasing pressure to resign after an undercover FBI probe produced audio recordings of cash bribes.

ST. LOUIS — The second most powerful politician in St. Louis, Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed, is resisting calls to resign four days after federal prosecutors charged him with accepting cash bribes in exchange for rewarding business owners with tax breaks. 

So far, at least six members of the Board of Aldermen – Bill Stephens, Tina Pihl, Christine Ingrassia, Anne Schweitzer, Cara Spencer and Megan Green – have publicly called for Reed to resign. Others have called on him privately to step down.

On his way out of the federal courthouse in downtown St. Louis on Thursday afternoon, Reed signaled he plans to dig in and fight the charges while he keeps his job.

The next morning, Reed and indicted alderman Jeffrey Boyd appeared virtually at the Board of Aldermen meeting. Reed handed over control of the chamber to Alderman Joe Vollmer. 

During the meeting, Boyd asked the Board of Aldermen to approve an Enhanced Enterprise Zone tax break that would benefit a developer promising to bring 95 new jobs to a vacant lot in his ward. His colleagues shut him down.

"I certainly understand what some of my colleagues are trying to do, but this would be an unjust move because this company has done nothing wrong," Boyd said. 

Later that afternoon, he submitted his resignation letter.

Vollmer, a political ally of Reed's who became the vice president of the Board of Aldermen when Boyd resigned his post Friday afternoon, said Boyd "did what was right."

"The fact he's indicted, people were upset he was even at the meeting," Vollmer said, though he predicted the rest of the board would likely approve the tax incentive later on once Boyd was out of the picture.

Mary Goodman, a spokeswoman for Reed's office, provided the following statement Tuesday:

“Since appearing in court last Thursday, President Reed has been working to gain legal clarity on a transition of authority of critical functions of the Board of Aldermen President’s Office to the Vice President of the Board of Aldermen. The Office of the President includes numerous legislative functions as well as executive functions that are governed by the City’s Charter. To assure a seamless transition and minimum disruption, President Reed will continue to finalize these arrangements and will provide further updates soon.”

Reformers who campaigned on limiting conflicts of interest at City Hall are calling for more sweeping reviews on tax breaks. 

"The citizens feel the pain whenever we authorize a TIF or tax abatement," Aldermen Stephens said in a Friday afternoon phone call. "It's been a blank check and it does harm the public."

Stephens is calling on the Board of Aldermen to "pause" any more tax breaks to review the process and examine it for any corrupt incentive structures.

Marquis Govan, an activist who taped a sign to Reed's office door and demanded he resign, said the indictment was damning and echoed calls for reforming how the city hands out tax breaks to businesses. 

"Tax abatements have been given away to developers like water at the expense of our unhoused neighbors, at the expense of our public schools, at the expense of tons of city services," Govan said.

"It's a question of where are we taking and where are we giving," Stephens said. 

Vollmer, who appears positioned to lead the Board of Aldermen proceedings while Reed remains in the background, said he was "stunned" by the indictment and "never had an inclination of them doing something like this."

"It's a scary thing," Vollmer said. "The most important thing to me is the integrity of the Board. I'm sure everyone thinks that's the way it's done by everyone, and that's not the way it's done."

As vice president, Vollmer would control which bills move to committee and would sign ordinances if the president is on an extended leave of absence, which means the city would be paying Reed's $90,766 salary for him not to do his job.

Mayor Tishaura Jones has not publicly called for Reed's resignation, though she said, "Jeffrey Boyd needed to go."

"The residents of the 22nd ward will be better served by an Alderman who is not facing federal corruption charges," Jones said in a Friday night statement.

Benjamin Singer is the CEO of Show Me Integrity, the group that organized and won nearly 70% of the city to vote for stricter ethics rules for aldermen.

He said the measure would force members of the Board of Aldermen "to recuse themselves from voting on any piece of legislation where they have a personal, financial conflict of interest."

"As a St. Louisan, I'm disgusted with these leaders breaking the trust of voters," Singer said.

In the indictment, Boyd told the developer – who was an undercover FBI informant – he supported those tax breaks because he was "PRO BUSINESS."

"Being pro-business is not being pro-corruption," Govan said. "Being pro-business is not pro-pay-to-play. Being pro-business does not mean you have to sell out the people of this city."

5 On Your Side obtained a copy of Boyd's resignation letter. He sent it to Reed in an email. The signature at the bottom, said, "Leadership is not about doing what's popular; it's about doing what's RIGHT."

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