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Corruption-riddled St. Louis should move to professional management, says city admin

The St. Louis City Hall
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis City Hall in May

In a recent St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial, Glendale City Administrator Benjamin DeClue wrote that the St. Louis region has “become a poster child for political corruption.” To solve that problem, he said, St. Louis and St. Louis County should adopt a council-manager form of government.

“It gets elected officials back into the business of leadership and setting goals and priorities,” he told St. Louis on the Air. “And then it's the professional staff's job to make sure that those priorities are met.”

In such a municipal system, a city administrator is hired to run the day-to-day operations of city government while elected officials, like a mayor, county executive and governing legislative body, focus on policymaking.

“That person then works closely with the council and the chief elected official to advance policy goals,” DeClue explained. “The difference is they do it in a non-political way. The county or city administrator, under a council-manager form, is completely nonpartisan.”

DeClue said that this type of system helps cities avoid corruption because city administrators aren’t involved in political fundraising. They are expected to adhere to a code of ethics formulated and regulated by the International City Managers Association — and they can be fired.

“If things aren't working out, and enough progress isn't being made, or things aren't moving in the right direction, then the elected body can change the county administrator or county manager,” he said. “And it doesn't involve an election, it doesn't involve tens of millions of dollars in advertising, [in] fundraising. They agree to part ways. They move on; somebody new comes in.

Benjamin DeClue joins St. Louis on the Air

“It's a form of government that works very well,” DeClue added. “If you look at some of the largest cities, the fastest-growing cities — both population-wise and business-wise in the United States: Austin, Phoenix, Dallas — those are all professionally managed.”

On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, DeClue also discussed what it would take for St. Louis and St. Louis County to adopt such a system. STLPR correspondent Jason Rosenbaum joined the conversation to discuss the political and public appetite for such a change.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.