Politically Speaking: Alderman Oldenburg on a city-county merger — and retooling city government
On the latest edition of the Politically Speaking podcast, St. Louis Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum and Jo Mannies welcome St. Louis Alderman Tom Oldenburg to the show for the first time.
The Democrat was recently elected to represent the city’s 16th Ward, which takes in parts of St. Louis Hills, Southampton, Princeton Heights and Lindenwood Park. He is filling out the remainder of Donna Baringer’s four-year term after she won election to a Missouri House seat. In addition to his elected service, Oldenburg is a vice-president of community development at U.S. Bank.
This year marked the first time Oldenburg has run for public office. He faced off against former state Rep. Michele Kratky in an expensive Democratic primary. After winning by a decisive margin, Oldenburg then defeated Republican candidate Abigail Niebling. Since the 16th Ward has a large amount of Republican residents, Oldenburg was one of the few Democratic aldermanic candidates who faced a serious general election opponent.
Since he was sworn into office in April, Oldenburg was assigned to the Board’s Convention and Tourism, Housing, Urban Development, and Zoning, Neighborhood Development, and Public Utilities Committees. He’s spent some of his time working on an overhaul of the city’s tax incentives, which have come under increasing fire over the last year.
Here’s what Oldenburg had to say during the show:
- Oldenburg is a proponent of some sort of merger between St. Louis City and St. Louis County. He said that the way the two jurisdictions are set up creates inefficiencies and holds the region back from being competitive. “I tend to be a data-driven, fiscal, dollar and cents individual,” he said. “We can’t keep going on this unsustainable model, where our peer cities and peer regions spend $800 or $900 less per capita in providing services.”
- He emphasized that any city-county union needs to happen “incrementally – and we don’t have to be impulsive with it.” He called recent talk of the Missouri General Assembly coming up with a plan “a bit impulsive,” adding that city and county stakeholders should have the biggest say in the process.
- Oldenburg said the Board’s Housing, Urban Development and Zoning Committee is seeking to retool the city’s tax incentive programs. “In my mind, a practical, pragmatic approach is with parameters to say, ‘We’re only going to give projects and folks the precise amount they need,’” he said. “And the way to do that is, ‘Let’s do the arithmetic.’ “
- While there is increased momentum to have state Auditor Nicole Galloway do an audit of city government, Oldenburg said his colleagues need to be mindful of that review’s costs – and whether it will make departments more efficient. “Government should always be operating as efficient and as lean as possible and audits uncover that,” he said. “My hang-up is the cost and if we’re going to spend the darn money, let’s make sure we have some teeth to implement what those findings are.”
Follow Jason Rosenbaum on Twitter: @jrosenbaum
Follow Jo Mannies on Twitter: @jmannies
Follow Tom Oldenburg on Twitter: @OldenburgSTL
Music: “Together Forever” by Rick Astley and “Shadowplay” by Joy Division