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St. Louis Aldermen Give First OK To Residency Vote, Back Juneteenth As A City Holiday

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen participates in a virtual meeting on June 19, 2020.
Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio
During its virtual meeting Friday, the St. Louis Board of Aldermen endorsed making Juneteenth a city holiday.

St. Louis residents are a step closer to taking a vote on eliminating the residency requirement for most city employees.

The Board of Aldermen gave first round approval Friday to legislationthat puts the charter change on the November ballot. A final vote could come next week.

As currently written, the charter requires almost all full-time employees to live inside the city’s boundaries. People who are coming from out of state or elsewhere in Missouri must move into the city within 120 days, and must live in the city for as long as they are employed by the city, except in certain circumstances.

Aldermen have tried for years to make the residency requirement apply only to elected officials and high-level appointees. They gave similar legislation first-round approval last year, but ultimately rejected it

The effort to get it passed this year is falling on the shoulders of Alderman Joe Vaccaro, D-23rd Ward.

“I believe the voters of this city have the right to address this, not Jeff City,” Vaccaro said, referring to a failed effort by Mayor Lyda Krewson and others to have the Missouri General Assembly liftthe residency requirement for city police officers.

Alderwoman Heather Navarro, D-28th Ward, said she agreed with her colleagues who want the city to look at its hiring practices. But she added that the residency requirement can be a barrier.

“I think there are a lot of personal reasons, very good compelling reasons why someone may move out of the city but still want to contribute to the city of St. Louis and still continue to work in the city,” she said.

Krewson and Police Chief John Hayden frequently cite the residency requirement as a reason for the shortage in police officers. But Alderwoman Tammika Hubbard, D-5th Ward, said she had never seen data supporting that argument.

“I always wonder and question why a person would not want to live in a city that they would be willing to protect,” she said.

And Alderwoman Sharon Tyus, D-1st Ward, said city residents have already given the police enough.

“We have given them raises. We have passed bond issues. We have passed public safety issues. No matter what we do though, what they really want to do is, they want to police us and live someplace else,” she said.

Juneteenth holiday

Aldermen on Friday also unanimously adopted a resolution calling on the city’s personnel department to make June 19, a date known as Juneteenth, a city holiday starting next year. It marks the day when news of the end of slavery finally reached Texas in 1865.

“This really makes me happy,” Alderwoman Marlene Davis, D-19th Ward, said, her voice cracking. “You just don’t know what we have had to go through just to be. No matter how excellent you are, no matter how respectful you are, no matter how hard you work, you still didn’t get fairness.”

Like all resolutions, the measure has no force of law. But Alderman Brandon Bosley, D-3rd Ward, called its adoption by a majority-white board significant.

“We have to have those members that agree with what it is we think this cause means to us,” he said. “And in this day and age, to have support in that means a hell of a lot.”

Alderwoman Lisa Middlebrook, D-2nd Ward, grew up hearing stories from her great grandmother, whose parents were slaves.

“I teach my son those lessons that she has taught, and it is very hard to see that some of the battles they were fighting, we’re still fighting today,” she said. “My son is like, ‘Well Mom, why is it still the same today?’ I don’t have the answers for him at this point. But I do see that we are moving towards good progress.”

Mayor Lyda Krewson on Thursday officially asked the personnel director to begin the process of making Juneteenth a city holiday starting next year.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

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