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St. Louis Board of Aldermen OK resolution calling for governor to veto firefighters bill

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 7, 2010 - Citing the city's right to govern itself, the St. Louis Board of Aldermen passed a resolution this morning that calls on Gov. Jay Nixon to veto the legislative measure that eases the residency rules for the city's firefighters.

"The state of Missouri has spit in the faces of the city of St. Louis," said the resolution's sponsor, Alderman Jeffrey Boyd, D-22nd Ward.

He added that he was prepared for a legal fight to underscore that the city is governed by a charter that gives city residents the power to decide most issues -- including employee residency.

The bill in question would allow firefighters to live outside the city after seven years of employment and cited the city's troubled public school district as the chief reason the firefighters should be allowed that right. City police -- who have been governed by the state for 150 years -- were granted such residency rules several years ago by the Legislature.

City officials, including Mayor Francis Slay, have been furious -- and hinting at possible legal action -- ever since Wednesday's legislative vote. All Missouri cities governed by charters should feel threatened, Slay says.

Alderman Quincy Troupe, D-1st Ward and a former legislator, said that the firefighters bill approved by the Legislature doesn't even require that the firefighters reside in Missouri. The requirement is only that they must live within an hour's drive of their fire house.

"You can go to Alton, Ill., almost, in an hour," Troupe said.

But Alderman Steve Conway, D-8th Ward, said many aldermen have themselves to blame because the board narrowly rejected a bill last year -- sponsored by Rep. Stephen Gregali, D-14th Ward -- that would have "headed this off."

Gregali's bill would have allowed city residents to vote on the matter. He currently has a bill that would allow any city employee to reside outside the city after seven years of employment.

Conway's comments set off a firestorm of criticism from some of those aldermen who opposed Gregali's bill, including Alderman Marlene Davis, D-19th, who asserted that most city firefighters "always have" educated their children at private and parochial schools, and thus have no stake in the city's troubled public schools.

Gregali tried to quell the infighting, and noted that there's even a bill before the Legislature that calls for reducing the size of the 28-member Board of Aldermen. He observed that the aldermen have larger districts than members of the state House.

"This is about us governing," Gregali said. "This is about us coming together here."

Boyd later called for an FBI investigation "of those legislators who are trying to govern by fear," and threatening the city's sovereignty.

Conway suggested that all aldermen who "have Jay Nixon's cell phone -- call him."

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.