Local Control
3:43 pm
Tue April 19, 2011

"Conditional compromise" nearing on St. Louis police local control

As lawmakers circle around a possible compromise on the local control legislation in the Missouri Capitol today, St. Louis' Mayor Francis Slay shared some of his thoughts on the possible ramifications.

We told you in a previous story that when Slay testified on the legislation, he said that an overwhelming majority of voters support local control, and that under state control, city residents have no input into how the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department is run.

Today, he posted on his blog with comments addressing new language in the legislation reflecting a compromise:

Here is how the bill works. If state lawmakers approve the legislation, the St. Louis police department will be returned to local control when the police officers association and the St. Louis Police Board agree on a collective bargaining agreement. The legislation also includes a number of provisions to make a smoother transition from state control to local control. It is a compromise that gives taxpayers something we have long sought. And it gives officers a formal seat at the table.

The mayor also said that he supports the legislation not only because it would give the city back its police department after 150 years, but also because collective bargaining, a condition of the compromise, "has a value in which [he] believe[s]."

A collective bargaining agreement, Slay says, will change for the better the relationship among the department, residents, and police officers.

"This is going to be more than just haggling over pay and working conditions," he says. "If it's done right, it represents a partnership that will hopefully improve morale among the police officers and improve the effectiveness of the department."

How the Police Officers' Association Weighs-In

The Police Officers' Association has been recognized as the official bargaining unit, and negotiators got close to a deal earlier this year.

The St. Louis Police Officers' Association also released a statement about the compromise, which discloses that the "compromise package" "also contains penalties for Aldermen or other City elected officials that would interfere with or obstruct police operations."

Interference from politicians was a primary point of concern for the Association when they originally voiced their disapproval of returning control of the St. Louis Police Department to the city.

Some were also concerned that the Police Association's pension fund could be at risk under local control, an item that the Association's release says is addressed in the compromise:

The only change to the pension system is a provision in the law that shifts the majority on the pension board to the active and retired members of the department, a major victory for rank-and-file police officers who were concerned that city control legislation would lead to an erosion of the retirement system.

Still, association business manager Jeff Roorda calls the deal a huge leap of faith.

"We were very happy with having the state Legislature act as a sort of neutral arbitrator of disagreements with the city," he says.

Legislative supporters react

Legislative supporters of local control of St. Louis’ Police Department are cautiously optimistic that the agreement reached today between Mayor Francis Slay and the city’s Police Officers Association will not collapse before the legislative session ends next month.

Democrat Joseph Keaveny of St. Louis sponsors the bill in the Senate that would give the city control over its police department for the first time since the Civil War.

“The police department and the mayor’s office have met for a number of weeks in order to hammer out an agreement that each side could live with…and we’re there…we just have to put it to paper, get the draft and introduce it on the Senate floor,” Keaveny said.

But fellow Democrat Maria Chappelle-Nadal remains skeptical. She has been blocking the local control bill in the Senate, and has not agreed yet to end her filibuster.

“We want to make sure that everything is where it needs to be…my concern from the very beginning has been whether or not widows and dependent children are taken care of…I also have a distinct concern about the way that the pension board is structured,” Chappelle-Nadal said.

Chappelle-Nadal says she and other senators will examine the agreement to make sure that everything is constitutional, and that all their issues are addressed.

We will update this story with more information as it becomes available.