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Parking Operations Take Center Stage In St. Louis Treasurer Race

Incumbent Treasurer Tishaura Jones, left, faces Alderman Jeffrey Boyd, D-22nd Ward, in the Aug. 4 Democratic primary.
Evie Hemphill, Carolina Hidalgo
St. Louis Public Radio
Incumbent Treasurer Tishaura Jones, left, faces Alderman Jeffrey Boyd, D-22nd Ward, in the Aug. 4 Democratic primary.

When St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura Jones and her challenger in the Democratic primary, Alderman Jeffrey Boyd, ran for the first time in 2012, both pledged to revamp the office.

Jones specifically said she would shift the responsibility for parking elsewhere and focus on banking and investment.

Eight years later, the treasurer’s office is still in charge of parking, which bothers Boyd.

“The parking operations have no business in that office,” said Boyd, D-22nd Ward. “She is spending hundreds of thousands of our taxpayer dollars fighting to keep it within the treasurer’s office all the way up to the Supreme Court.”

It’s state law that puts the treasurer in charge of parking in St. Louis — under the city’s charter, the office handles banking functions. In 2017, Boyd joined a lawsuit filed by a former city attorney that challenged the constitutionality of those state laws. A judge struck them down in 2018, but the ruling is not yet final.

Jones said she looked into changing the state laws when she was first elected but found that moving parking responsibility out of her office would harm the city’s credit rating.

“The city would have to absorb the debt, which is currently at about $65 million,” Jones said, referring to outstanding payments on bonds used to construct parking garages throughout the city. “And then also, the city would have to absorb additional employees, as well as pay for the employees.”

The dispute over control of parking boils down to money. The state laws challenged in the court case say the treasurer has to give the city no more than 40% of the parking revenue that’s left over after the bonds are paid. Removing that limit could bring millions more into the city’s coffers.

“That money could be better used for city services, like making sure our streets, our roads and bridges are safe to travel, that our first responders would have adequate resources when they respond, that trash services are picked up on time,” Boyd said.

Jones argued that she kept a more important promise of handling the city’s investments well enough for them to bring in more money than parking ever could.

“I also made a promise that we should be leveraging [the office’s] position as the chief banking officer for the city to ask banks to do more,” she said. “And those two promises have yielded more money and more influence and more good things for city residents than just who runs the parking division.”

A partial rematch

This is the second time Boyd and Jones have run against each other for treasurer. There were two other candidates in the 2012 race as well, which meant endorsements were split four ways. Boyd said his ability to get “over half” of the city’s elected officials to back him is a big statement.

For Jones, the biggest difference between 2012 and 2020 is the margin she’ll need to get to stay in office. She won that first primary with 35% of the vote, while Boyd came in third.

Both candidates also ran for mayor in 2017, in a seven-way Democratic primary. While Boyd has all but ruled out another run for that office, Jones would only say that she is committed to running for reelection.

Whoever wins the Aug. 4 Democratic primary will face Republican and Green Party challengers in November.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

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

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.