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After decades of contemplation and debate, a group known as Better Together is recommending an end to the “Great Divorce” between St. Louis and St. Louis County.Better Together is proposing an ambitious plan to create a unified metro government and police department and limit municipalities' ability to levy sales taxes. The plan would be decided through a statewide vote.Proponents contend it will scrape away layers of local government that has been holding the St. Louis region back. Opponents believe the plan will create an unwieldy and large centralized government that could be implemented against the will of city and county residents.

Leaders Call For Resignation of St. Louis County NAACP President, Unite STL Criticizes Those Calls

On April 22, 2019, St. Louis County Councilwoman Hazel Erby, D-University City and other black political leaders announced their position on the NAACP's endorsement for the city-county merger. The same day they called for John Gaskin III to resign as pres
File photo | Chad Davis | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis County Councilwoman Hazel Erby, D-University City, and other political leaders announce their oposition to the St. Louis County NAACP endorsement of the Better Together city-county merger proposal.

Updated 7:45 a.m., April 23, with comment from a Unite STL spokesperson — More than 30 African American political leaders from the St. Louis metro area are calling for the resignation of St. Louis County NAACP President John Gaskin III.

The announcement came Monday afternoon at the Cool Valley City Hall, several days after political leaders accused Gaskin of having a conflict of interest after he revealed he is being paid by Unite STL. The organization is the political arm pushing for the Better Together’s city-county merger recommendations. Gaskin announced the St. Louis County NAACP was in favor of the merger on April 18.

“This is not a bunch of black elected officials from the city and county who are opposed to the NAACP. We’re opposed to an action that took place by the president of this chapter who does not represent the real intent of the NAACP,” said St. Louis Alderman Brandon Bosley, D-3rd Ward.

Gaskin said Thursday his relationship with Unite STL was not an unusual practice. County NAACP officials cited other campaigns, including Clean Missouri, for hiring consultants who endorse specific proposals.

Leaders also expressed concerns over Gaskin’s claim that minority representation could strengthen under the Better Together plan. Opponents of the plan say weakened minority representation has been a major concern since the proposal was first released in January.

“This plan does not do anything for the strides that have been made before now,” Bosley said. “This is going to change the entire fate of this state forever.”

Thirty-three council members would serve in the potential new St. Louis government, according to the Better Together plan. Critics have argued that this would significantly dilute minority representation throughout the metro area.

Gaskin said Thursday the county NAACP backing was partially due to the changes the Better Together proposal would make to the police departments and municipal court systems. Under the proposal, both entities would consolidate. Gaskin said those changes would establish significant reforms within the metro area.

But other local officials have opposed Gaskin’s stance, including St. Louis County Councilwoman Hazel Erby, D-University City.

“You should not confuse our opposition to Better Together with the defense of the current local government structure,” Erby said. “The St. Louis region has at least ninety-nine problems and how we do local government is definitely one of them, although reforming how we do local government would not fix what’s wrong with St. Louis.”

Leaders also addressed their concerns about a Better Together statewide vote. A resolution from Rep. LaKeySha Bosley, D-St. Louis, is challenging that proposal.

“It exclusively lays out that St. Louis City and St. Louis County are the only ones that should have a say so and have the vote within this plan in consolidating or merging,” LaKeySha Bosley said.

If the bill passes, it would also prevent other potential city-county merger proposals requiring a statewide vote, she said. Better Together officials have argued a statewide vote is necessary to conduct the types of changes within the proposal.

Ed Rhode, a spokesperson for Unite STL, criticized the oposition of the merger, specfically those who also voted against a municipal court reform bill that modifies how municipal courts collect traffic fines. The bill was signed into law in 2015.

"This is the same group of individuals who are opposed to police and municipal court reform," Rhode said in a statement. "Two of the individuals in particular served as the spokespeople opposing (Senate Bill 5), which attempted to eliminate the worst abuses in County municipal courts and set minimum standards for area police departments.”

The press conference came several days after Dellwood Mayor Reggie Jones called on Gaskin to resign from his NAACP position.

Follow Chad on Twitter @iamcdavis.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.

Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.