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Police deal to spark renewed push for local control, mayor says

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 31, 2011 - With the St. Louis Police Officers Association now on board, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay predicts there will be a solid city effort during next year's legislative session to persuade the Missouri General Assembly to grant local control of the city's police department.

But if the state declines to approve the change, Slay said he and other allies -- "as a last resort" -- will actively support the initiative petition drive, already underway, to collect enough signatures to get the question before Missouri voters on the 2012 ballot.

"I'm OK with the initiative petition if this doesn't work," the mayor said, referring to talks to get a local control proposal before legislators during a special session this summer, or when the new session begins next January.

Slay offered his comments today following the formal signing of the first collective bargaining agreement between the police officers group and the Board of Police Commissioners, most of whom are appointees of Gov. Jay Nixon and confirmed by the state Senate.

Police Board president Richard Gray lauded today's signing as "a great day'' for cooperation between the board and the association, two groups that often have been at odds.

The collective-bargaining agreement was part of the deal cut to persuade the police group to end its longstanding opposition to local control, after 150 years of the state governing the department. The deal was deemed crucial in what turned out to be this session's failed effort to persuade the General Assembly to back local control.

Association business manager Jeff Roorda, a former legislator, said that the collective bargaining agreement -- the first in the state's history -- was the key factor in changing the group's official position on the issue.

But Roorda also acknowledged that police have found it more difficult to grapple with the "calisthenics of dealing with the constant turnover" in the legislature since term limits began to go into effect in earnest about a decade ago. (Although voters approved legislative term limits in 1992, lawmakers weren't forced out en masse until 2000 and later.)

Roorda noted that about half of the state House was replaced last fall, some by term limits and others (including him) by the Republican wave. "The learning curve is very steep'' for legislators to learn the details of  St. Louis police department's issues, he said.

Under the three-year contract approved today, there is incentive for the police association to continue to support local control. The pay schedule during the third year would be improved if local control is in place. Slay said the deal calls for the officers to receive half of the projected $4 million a year savings for the city.

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.