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Local control bill faces familiar and new obstacles

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 15, 2011 - During the Missouri General Assembly's regular session, St. Louis' efforts to win local control of its police department got embroiled in the unrelated debate over an economic development package.

Both efforts died.

Now, during this month's special session, some local control advocates fear they're seeing a replay.

"If that were the case, that would be wrong,'' said Jeff Rainford, chief of staff to St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, as he and other allies appeared to blanket the state Senate's halls Wednesday in their campaign for support -- and a floor vote.

State Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, is arguably the most vocal critic of the local control bill now before the Senate, after easily passing the state House late last week. She was an opponent during the regular session as well.

Chappelle-Nadal said in an interview that her concerns must be addressed before she will support the local-control bill. Among other things, she wants the bill to require that all new police officers be allowed to live outside the city after seven years. That's the policy for current members of the police force, but future hires will have to comply with the city's charter requiring employees to reside within the city.

The city's charter would need to be changed to alter that requirement, Rainford said. That would require a citywide vote.

Chappelle-Nadal also successfully lobbied for a delay in the Senate's vote because the St. Louis Police Officers Association is holding an election for new officers and half of its executive board. Some candidates, including one running for association president, have been critical of local control.

Chappelle-Nadal said that if the association leadership changes, the association may no longer support local control. Local control allies say that fewer than a quarter of the association's board face challengers who oppose local control.

She asserted that some city police officers feel they are being forced to support the bill because the alternative may be an initiative petition drive to put the issue on the 2012 statewide ballot.

Wealthy financier Rex Sinquefield is helping to bankroll the group to conduct the petition drive. "They feel absolutely threatened by Rex Sinquefield,'' said Chappelle-Nadal, who has had her own political encounters with the financier. He backed two of her opponents in the 2010 Democratic primary that sent her to the Senate.

Jeff Roorda, business manager for the police association, said that the local control bill passed by the House includes protections for officers' current pay and rank, as well as their pensions. Sinquefield's initiative petition proposals offer no such protections.

That's one of the reasons why Roorda is critical of Chappelle-Nadal's efforts to delay a Senate vote. "The opposition is endangering a deal that protects all of these benefits,'' Roorda said. "This is the best deal that our men and women can hope for."

Even so, Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, said the chamber has agreed to Chappelle-Nadal's request for the Senate to wait until next week. An unofficial count of the association's vote is expected to be available by then.

State Sen. Joe Keaveny, D-St. Louis and a local-control advocate, downplays Chappelle-Nadal's role in any vote delay.

He and Rainford are paying closer attention the full Senate, Both said that the St. Louis and its legislative allies have sought to comply with every request of the Senate and its members.

On Wednesday, for example, Keaveny was seen on the Senate floor with state Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, discussing how local control would affect lawsuits against St. Louis police officers.

The state attorney general's staff now handles those suits, which combined can cost the state up to $1 million a year, Rainford said. The city has agreed to foot the bill for all new suits the day the bill would be passed.

The upshot, city officials say, is that the state will save at least $1 million a year with the changeover.

State House Speaker Steve Tilley, R-Perryville and a local-control advocate, told reporters that he doesn't understand why Chappelle-Nadal has sought to slow down the bill and why she is so concerned with St. Louis' police department when her district doesn't take in any of the city.

Chappelle-Nadal replied with expletives -- which she said she wanted made public. She added that local control was a regional issue because her district residents travel to St. Louis for work, pleasure and sporting events.

"I live within a mile of the city,'' Chappelle-Nadal said. "We're not talking about Texas and Mexico. We're a region."

In any event, she said she is prepared to filibuster to block local control unless advocates make the changes that she seeks.

Mayer, meanwhile, said Wednesday that he expects a full Senate vote next week on local control. But that's also when both chambers will once again tackle the economic development package.