Thursday, October 21, 2004

I have been trying to wrap my head around the charter reform movement here in St. Louis. It is an issue that will change the make-up of the city. There are four Proposals on the Ballot A, B, C, and D. The proposals will consolidate several county positions, turning some of them into appointed positions under the control of the Mayor and eliminating one. The proposals will also reduce the number of aldermanic wards and increase the power of the Aldermanic President.

While consolidating power under the mayor may raise a lot of eyebrows in most cities, in St. Louis is may actually be a benefit because of the odd nature of St. Louis governance. St. Louis has, in addition to its regular offices, several elected county offices. St. Louis is one of only a few cities who still have a city divorced from its surrounding metropolitan area. As a result, the city has a glut of elected positions as well as a ward system that has largely been eliminated in the rest of the county.

The St. Louis American has some good coverage on this topic:
Here, on the office of the Mayor.
Here, on the county offices.
Here, on the Board of Aldermen.

One person who can be expected to support the move is Tom Schlafly, lead partner of the St. Louis Brewery, brewers of Schlafly beer. In a Post-Dispatch endorsement of the charter reform, Schlafly told a story about dealing with the difficult nature of doing business in the city. The St. Louis Brewery and Taproom opened in 1992, in 2000 they decided they needed to expand and wanted to build a bottling line and restaraunt in the city. Several different factors killed the idea but the number one problem was dealing with the city and trying to please every different interest group. Eventually Maplewood, an inner-ring suburb just the other side of the city/county line, offered to do what was necessary to bring Schlafly to their town. Four years later there is a successful resturaunt and bottling plant in Maplewood, and the Bottleworks (as it's known) has acted as an anchor in the redevelopment in downtown Maplewood, much as the Taproom did downtown 14 years ago.

Trying to get through all of the political rhetoric is difficult, but the basic idea is sound; clearer lines of accountability as well as a streamlined decision process. The proposition to reduce the number of aldermen does not strike me as helpful despite the arguments that the number we have is excessive for a city of our size. A number of the public criticisms I have heard have come from entrenched political interests who have done well under the current system and may be concerned about a change in the system.

The vote is only 12 days away. With all the focus on the Presidential, Gubernatorial and Senate elections, charter reform has gotten lost in the mix. It would be good to see a good discussion about this issue.

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