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St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones wants to bank some of the Rams settlement

St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones poses for a portrait on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, at St. Louis Public Radio in Midtown.
Eric Lee
St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones poses for a portrait on Thursday at St. Louis Public Radio.

St. Louis is in the unusual position of having lots of extra cash, thanks to a settlement from the departure of the St. Louis Rams.

But St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones isn’t advocating spending the roughly $250 million right away. During an interview on The Politically Speaking Hour on St. Louis on the Air, Jones expressed support for putting money aside and using the interest for city needs.

“If I had a magic wand, I would set aside a bulk of it for a municipal endowment fund, and we would live off the interest for many, many years to come,” Jones said. ”I majored in finance when I was in college and worked in investment banking. And so as a former banker, I am trying to see how we can keep a good chunk of it to make sure that we are prepared financially for anything to come down the road.”

Aldermanic leaders polled residents about how they want the Rams money to be spent. The priorities included fixing water mains and improving pedestrian traffic safety as well as boosting city worker salaries and subsidizing daycare for residents.

But Jones expressed disapproval of using Rams money for ongoing expenses, like increasing salaries.

“It's not smart, and it's not sustainable,” she said.

Jones also said she’s been in discussions with federal officials about building an extension of the MetroLink’s light rail system to run north and south through the city. She said that the city would need about $90 million while federal funds would pay for the majority of the $1.1 billion project.

She also said she was not interested in using funds from a 2017 sales tax increase promoted for MetroLink expansion for bus rapid transit. That’s the term typically used describing a plan to build dedicated bus lanes.

“I want to keep my promise to the people in North St. Louis,” Jones said. “We started collecting money in this tax and told them that we would build them MetroLink. And to build them Bus Rapid Transit would not be keeping our promise to them.”

Chief Robert Tracy, of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, speaks on Friday, April 21, 2023, during a press conference regarding his first 100 days in the office at the police headquarters in Downtown West.
Rachel Lippmann
St. Louis Public Radio
Chief Robert Tracy, of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, speaks on April 21, 2023, during a press conference regarding his first 100 days in the office.

Policing concerns

Jones also spoke extensively on the program about the city’s policing strategies and what the city is doing to fill hundreds of officer vacancies.

“Talk to any mayor across the country. And they'll tell you the same thing that they have the largest number of vacancies of police officers that they've seen probably in decades, as well as open positions in city government,” Jones said. “So we’re all struggling.”

She said an agreement to raise police officer salaries actually prompted some officers who had gone to different law enforcement agencies throughout the region to return to the St. Louis department.

Listen to the full interview with St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones

“We also are taking a different approach to our academy classes. We're doing them on a rolling basis rather than to wait until the academy class is full and then do the class,” Jones said. “So we're doing everything that we can to address recruitment and retention that's physically possible within our reach.”

In recent months, several high-profile traffic accidents have resulted in increased criticism of the police department. That includes an incident earlier this year in which a police car crashed into Bar:PM — an establishment that’s popular among LGBTQ residents.

When asked to respond to a listener question about whether there are problems in the way police officers are driving, Jones replied that she feels “for those who have been impacted by any accident that has happened with our officers.” And she blames part of the problem on officers driving bigger vehicles.

“Our cars have changed. We used to drive Impalas, now we drive Tahoes and those are pretty difficult to steer in difficult situations,” Jones said. “Could police actually benefit from or, I would say, our new police benefit from more hours with Tahoes to get used to how they operate, how they move, how they turn? Absolutely. But we also have to realize these are different and larger vehicles that we’re driving nowadays versus back in the past.”

She also said that the crash exposed tensions between police and the LGBTQ community, adding the “accident just exacerbated or tore a Band-Aid off of an open wound that hasn't healed correctly in the first place.”

Jonesalso addressed a recent ProPublica article detailing how Police Chief Robert Tracy is receiving $100,000 from the St. Louis Police Foundation to supplement his salary. Jones said the city’s salaries cap out at $175,000 and added that police chiefs in other cities often are paid more.

Jones added that she was “absolutely” confident that the St. Louis Police Foundation, which is funded by the city’s business community, won’t exert any undue influence on Tracy. She said the contract asks him to be present at community meetings and do an annual community report — which is, she added, “already in Chief Tracy's blood.”

“If we want to attract talent, then we have to find innovative ways in order to do so,” she said.

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, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org.

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Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.