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City Standoff Over Board Of Freeholders Appointments Continues

Former Alderman Antonio French converses with Board of Aldermen Clerk Terry Kennedy on Nov. 21, 2019.
Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
Former Alderman Antonio French converses with Board of Aldermen Clerk Terry Kennedy on Thursday.

Updated at 1:45 p.m. Friday with additional delay

The city of St. Louis still does not have members of the Board of Freeholders.

The Intergovernmental Affairs committee failed again Friday to take any action on Mayor Lyda Krewson’s nominees to the board, which could consider changing governance in St. Louis and St. Louis County.

The city is well beyond a constitutional deadline to approve its members.

A spokesman for Krewson says the committee needs to act, but he is not aware of any efforts to force it to do so.

Updated at 4:30 p.m. Thursday with continued delay

Members of a St. Louis Board of Aldermen committee once again held off on approving nominees to the Board of Freeholders.

The Intergovernmental Affairs Committee declined Thursday to vote for St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson’s nine nominees to the board examining governance in St. Louis and St. Louis County. It comes a couple of days after Krewson appointed four new nominees aimed at satisfying concerns that not enough were from north St. Louis.

A motion to untable nominees in order to vote on them failed on Thursday. Committee Chairman Sam Moore said some members want to replace former Alderman Antonio French with Barbara Martin. He also said that others wanted to swap out Eddie Roth for Gilberto Pinela, which would ensure the Board of Freeholders has city representation from the LGBTQ and Latino communites.

The committee recessed until Friday morning without taking a vote. St. Louis is long past a constitutional deadline to approve freeholder nominees.

Committee members had objected to Krewson’s original slate of nominees because not enough lived in north St. Louis. Krewson submitted four nominees that included three north city residents.

Original story from Nov. 19:

St. Louis may soon have representation on a board that could substantially change how the city and county are governed.

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson named four new nominees to what’s historically known as the Board of Freeholders. And while an aldermanic committee didn’t vote on them on Tuesday, both sides of the stalemate are hopeful that a meeting Thursday will bring a resolution.

The board’s Intergovernmental Affairs Committee has held off on voting on Krewson’s nine nominees to the Board of Freeholders for weeks. They wanted more representation from north St. Louis, especially since the freeholders could propose consolidation of services or governments that could affect the largely African American area.

On Tuesday, Krewson named four new nominees: 

  • Former Alderman Antonio French, who represented the 21st Ward for eight years
  • Fourth Ward Committeewoman Dwin Evans
  • JoAnn Williams, who worked for the Carpenters Union
  • Jon-Pierre Mitchom, an educator and school counselor for St. Louis Priory School

First Ward Alderwoman Sharon Tyus says she knows three of the nominees — and added there's a benefit to having representation on the Board of Freeholders from north St. Louis.
“That’s an improvement already for me, because whatever decisions they make that might adversely affect my community, at least they’ll be a part of it,” Tyus said.

Alderman Sam Moore, the chairman of the Intergovernmental Affairs Committee, said he wanted to hold off on voting on all nine of Krewson’s nominees until Thursday. He and other committee members want the new nominees to testify before the committee.

“We can hold this until Thursday; we can conclude it Thursday,” said Moore, D-4th Ward.

The city has long passed a constitutional deadline to approve nominees to the Board of Freeholders. While a case from the 1950s showcased that late appointees to the board do not necessarily derail the process, there are financial reasons for city leaders to be concerned.

That’s because the constitution empowers the Board of Freeholders to hire staff — and have the city and county pay for it. And it’s not out of the question that the board could hire attorneys — and then sue the city for not approving appointees on time. Regardless of the outcome, the city would have to foot some of the legal bills.

Krewson’s chief of staff, Stephen Conway, confirmed on Tuesday that scenario “is an issue that’s out there.”

“Once you go past [the deadline], you’re opening yourself up to uncertainty about how the law will treat the circumstances,” Conway said. “We’re alert to that. But we also know the county had [a nominee] that was late. And I know in 1954, the governor was at the 78th day.”

Other nominees for the board include Bridget Flood, Joe Hodes, Eddie Roth, Jerry Schlichter and Dan Zdrodowski.

Frustrations over the process

Aldermen Sam Moore, D-4th Ward, and Bret Narayan, D-24th Ward, take part in an Intergovernmental Affairs Committee on Nov. 19, 2019.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
Aldermen Sam Moore, D-4th Ward, and Bret Narayan, D-24th Ward, take part in an Intergovernmental Affairs Committee on Nov. 19, 2019.

Several members of the committee expressed frustration with how the process unfolded. Alderman Dan Guenther, D-9th Ward, noted the four people replaced — LaShana Lewis, Taunia Mason, Earl Nance and Abdul-Kaba Abdullah — were never publicly voted down in committee.

“It was the consensus of me polling my committee — asking them what they wanted,” Moore said when asked about why the prior nominees weren’t given a vote. “Everyone had an opinion. And we came up with the consensus of those four names — and then asked the mayor for consideration.”

Alderman Bret Narayan said there were no nominees of Latino, Asian or Bosnian heritage. He also noted that the lone LGBTQ nominee, Lewis, was taken out of consideration.

“If we look at a true representation of the city, if we’re trying to make this a cross section of the city — we have already failed,” said Narayan, who is the only Asian member of the Board of Aldermen. “Because we have ignored a large swath of the city that is neither white nor black.”

In response to Narayan’s comments, Moore replied: “On the north side of St. Louis, we don’t have any Asians unless they’re selling rice in the chop suey place.”

“This is a very polarized city,” Moore said. “It’s always been black and white. I know you’re just getting down here. But the issues have been black and white since I’ve been down here 13 years.”

Moore said after the meeting he meant no disrespect by his comments.

Tyus added: “When you start talking about inclusion, you look for a significant amount of people that are in the population to address past regress.”

“There has not been a significant Asian population that we have discriminated against in St. Louis. There has not been a significant amount of Hispanic population,” Tyus said. “So when you try to do representation, not that I’m opposed to Asian or Hispanic [freeholders]; they’re not a significant amount of population in the city of St. Louis to represent a portion.”

Narayan said: “Ultimately, I just disagree with Sam. I think it’s pretty clear there are Asians and Latinos and Bosnians that live on the north side.” 

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Rachel Lippmann contributed reporting.

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

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

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