Aldermen Want City Voters to Redo Ward Reduction, Eliminate Residency


In 2012, St. Louis voters approved a plan to cut the number of city wards from 28 to 14 by 2022. Sixty-one percent were in favor, in a high-turnout election.

But last Friday, the people who would be affected by that reduction, the St. Louis Board of Aldermen, decided to ask city voters for a redo. Board Bill 25 will let city voters bring the number of wards — and, not so coincidentally, the number of city aldermen — right back up to 28. And, controversially, it would do so in a notoriously low-turnout April election, in 2019.

The proposal drew support largely on racial lines — and became extremely contentious. Members of the city's black caucus sponsored the bill and ultimately voted unanimously in its favor, while all but two white members, Alderwomen Carol Howard and Beth Murphy, voted in opposition. (Alderman Joseph Vollmer was absent.)

And Howard and Murphy's reasons for supporting the bill appear to be less solidarity with the north side and more a deal to gain passage for Howard's Board Bill 21.

The bill, also a charter amendment, would change the rule requiring city employees to live within city limits. Agency and department directors appointed by the mayor would still have to live in the city. Other employees would be free to live where they'd like.

Howard's bill won passage with a vote of 16-13, with a few key members of the black caucus joining her and other white aldermen in "yes" votes. Members on the losing side charged on social media that the black caucus made a deal with Howard (and no one seemed too interested in denying it). The amendment to eliminate residency rules is now set for the November 2018 ballot.

Both changes will need 60 percent approval to become part of the charter. However, it's not a given that either will make it to city voters. Mayor Lyda Krewson could exercise her right to veto either — and without twenty votes in favor, the board won't able to override her.

The mayor's spokesman, Koran Addo, told St. Louis Public Radio on Friday that Krewson was waiting for the final verbiage on both bills to state her position.

For now, however, the two votes appear to have shaken the tentative alliance between north city aldermen and southside progressives. For the most part, the progressives oppose both the revote on the reductions and the elimination of the residency requirement.

Alderman John Collins-Muhammad, one of the most vocal supporters of the redo vote, denounced his progressive colleagues on Facebook, writing, "So-called Progressives have perfected the art of posing as our friends and benefactor & by winning our friendship, the so-called progressive has been able to use Us as a pawn or a weapon for their own agenda which is not necessarily the agenda for Black people #STL You can't march on principle, then vote on politics."

Some aldermen and women said their vote against Collins-Muhammad's bill was not about the bigger picture so much as the insistence that the vote happen in April — and a quick move to cut off debate at Friday's meeting.

Outside the board itself, the reduction discussion wasn't entirely on racial lines. The St. Louis American published a broadside against the plan on March 3, and former Comptroller Virvus Jones, whose daughter Tishaura united progressives and black voters to nearly win the mayor's job, echoed some of its arguments in a pointed tweet about the revote.

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