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Despite tumult over bribery convictions, St. Louis aldermen passed major legislation

Alderwoman Tina “Sweet T” Pihl (Ward 17), left, speaks to Alderwoman Annie Rice (Ward 8) on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2022, during a meeting of the Board of Aldermen at 1520 Market Street in downtown St. Louis.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Alderwoman Tina Pihl, left, of the 17th Ward, speaks to 8th Ward Alderwoman Annie Rice while their colleagues talk in the background during a meeting of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen in December. The aldermen met at 1520 Market St. instead of City Hall in order to get back to in-person meetings while the regular chamber underwent upgrades for COVID protection.

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen is on break for the municipal election season after a tumultuous but productive session.

Aldermen had been in session for barely a month and a half whenfederal prosecutors indicted three of their now-former colleagues on bribery charges. That meant even more new members on a board that had already seen quite a bit of turnover.

And it also put inexperienced members in the president’s chair. Joe Vollmer, although among the most senior aldermen at the board, had not spent much time presiding over meetings. And Megan Green, who was elected with just 10 meetings left in session, had no experience on the dais.

But despite the chaos, aldermen managed to pass a number of meaningful bills. They included an experimental guaranteed basic income program, changes to development incentives, a board pay raise, spending millions in federal COVID relief money and a regular review of the city charter.

“I want to commend my colleagues for staying focused on the residents of our city and for making St. Louis better on their behalf,” Green said.

Despite an early dispute over committee structure, Green managed to mostly avoid controversy during her short tenure. She is unopposed for a full four-year term as president.

And unlike in many previous years, aldermen will not be scrambling to push major legislation across the finish line. In fact, when they return for for the last day of the current session in April, there will be just four bills to consider.

Green gets much of the credit for the lack of drama, said Alderwoman Shameem Clark Hubbard of the 26th Ward.

Alderwoman Shameem Clark Hubbard, of the 26th Ward, commends Board of Aldermen President Megan Green on Friday, Feb. 10, 2023, during a press conference after the final regular meeting for the St. Louis Board of Aldermen at City Hall.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Alderwoman Shameem Clark Hubbard, of the 26th Ward, commends Board of Aldermen President Megan Green on Friday during a press conference after the second-to-last meeting for the current session of the board.

“I didn't even endorse or support Megan in the first race,” Hubbard said. “But Day One from when she won, we came together.”

The decision to get the aldermen meeting back in person instead of on video also contributed to a drama-free ending, said Alderman Bret Narayan of the 24th Ward.

Being in person, he said, enables aldermen to check in with their colleagues and answer any questions about bills face-to-face.

“You can actually swing votes, you can change people's minds with those conversations,” he said. “I think as we got back in person, a lot of the drama just shifted. It's really hard to be rude to someone's face, it's really easy to say nasty things in a room by yourself when you're talking to a screen.”

Aldermen will return for the last time as a body of 28 on April 17. The new board of 14 goes into session the next day.

In addition to Green, 17 other incumbents are running for reelection. The primary is March 7, and the general election is April 4.

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