An official in St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay’s office confirmed a disciplinary investigation is being conducted concerning Municipal Court Administrator Catherine Ruggeri-Rea’s decision to hire her brother to reconcile the court’s receipts.
Ruggeri-Rea paid her brother, Henry Ruggeri III, $2,250 for five weeks of work in late December and early January, Sam Dotson, the mayor’s director of operations, said in a telephone interview.
Ruggeri-Rea did not return telephone messages seeking comment. Thursday morning at the office, Ruggeri-Rea told a reporter she was in a meeting and expecting someone for another meeting. She said to make an appointment, then said her secretary was not in and finally said to call the mayor’s spokeswoman, Kara Bowlin.
Bowlin did not respond to a message seeking an interview with Ruggeri-Rea.
A telephone number for Henry Ruggeri could not be found.
Ruggeri-Rea showed “a tremendous lapse of judgment,” Dotson said, adding that “any discipline is on the table.”
The possibilities range from termination to a reprimand.
Ruggeri performed work that needed to be done, and there are no allegations of stealing, Dotson said. The work Ruggeri did was normally done by a full-time employee, but the position was vacant, and money the court collected in fees or fines was accumulating, he said. Before that money could be transferred to the city Treasurer’s Office, which it ultimately was, the court’s books had to be balanced, he said.
Instead of giving her brother the contract to perform this work, Ruggeri-Rea should have done one of two things: fill the vacant position or start the bid process to contract someone to do the work, Dotson said.
The city’s threshold for requiring bids for jobs is $5,000, he said, but “it doesn’t give her a pass, and it doesn’t excuse her from not following the process.”
Dotson said he asked the city’s internal audit unit to investigate the municipal court to make sure there are no other oversights or lapses in judgment.
“I feel as director of operations … that we have an obligation to be as open and transparent with taxpayer money as possible,” he said.
The city is also in the process of hiring another judge, following the resignation of Judge Margaret Walsh. The municipal judges will then determine which one of them will be the administrative judge. That person will have the responsibility to ensure that the court administrator performs her duties adequately, Dotson said.