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St. Louis voters could decide future of aldermanic cuts, and residency rule

The Board of Aldermen chambers on July 7, 2017.
File photo | Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen has given first-round approval to ballot proposals that would end the city’s residency requirement for most workers, and block the scheduled cut in the board’s size.

But as yet, Mayor Lyda Krewson has not taken a position on either proposal. And Friday’s vote for either measure wouldn’t be enough if she decides to exercise her veto.

The board’s most passionate split is over the plan, approved by voters six years ago, to slash the board from 28 members to 14 by 2022. The new boundary lines for the 14 surviving wards would be determined by the 2020 census.

Alderman John Collins-Mohammad, D-21st Ward, is among the sponsors of the new ballot proposal that would preserve the current 28 wards.

He contends that the current reduction plan is unfair to minorities.

“If you want to ensure that everyone is equally represented, then ward reduction is not the way to go,” Collins-Mohammad said during Friday’s debate. 

“If your goal is to disenfranchise wards and neighborhoods, then you support ward reduction – in its current form.”

The alderman argued that there were likely better ways to reduce the board’s size.

But backers of the current phase-out contend that the ballot proposal is aimed at circumventing the will of the voters, in order to protect political clout.

“A do-over is crazy,’’ said Alderman Jack Coatar, D-7th Ward.

Coatar and his allies particularly object to the final version of the preservation ballot proposal that would go on the ballot in April 2019, generally a low-turnout election.

Backers of the current plan argued that opponents should at least put preservation before voters in November, which would see a much higher turnout.

The 2012 vote was on the November ballot, where 61 percent of the city voters backed the plan to cut the board in half.

Backers say the cut would save the city money, and makes sense, since St. Louis’ population is less than half of what it was 60 years ago.

But Collins-Mohammad said 28 aldermen are needed to tackle all the city’s problems. His side voted 15-13 in favor of the new ballot proposal, and successfully blocked several efforts to move it to November.

Residency rule a help, or hindrance?

The board does plan to ask St. Louis voters in November whether to keep the city’s longstanding requirement that city-government workers must live in St. Louis.

That ballot proposal would require that only the city’s top officials and department heads live in St. Louis. Alderwoman Carol Howard, D-14th Ward, is the chief sponsor. She was among several aldermen who argued that change is needed because the residency requirement is preventing the city from filling some key vacancies.

Alderwoman Sharon Tyus, D-1st Ward, said the residency rule was important and should retained.

“You have much more of an interest in your community when you’re there,” she said.

City voters previously have backed the residential rule. But court and legislative decisions already allow some city police and firefighters to live elsewhere.

The aldermen will cast a final vote next week. Friday’s vote was 16-13 in favor of putting the residency issue before voters.

Krewson spokesman Koran Addo said the mayor was holding off until the final votes on both ballot proposals before she announces her positions.

“Because bills can change up until the last minute, the mayor will make a determination if/when the board passes the bills in their final form,” Addo said.

The board will need 20 votes to override any potential Krewson veto. She also could sign the ballot proposals, or simply allow them to go before voters without her signature.

Follow Jo Mannies on Twitter @jmannies

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.