Local Control
1:33 pm
Thu March 24, 2011

St. Louis police officers file suit targeting local control petition language

The battle over who will control the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department has entered the theater of the courtroom.

Legislative efforts to give the city's Board of Aldermen direct oversight of the department have stalled. (It's currently governed by a five-member board, four of whom are gubernatorial appointees. The mayor is always the fifth).

So a group backed by billionaire Libertarian Rex Sinquefield is preparing to circulate petitions that would allow voters in 2012 to decide on a constitutional amendment that would change the governing structure of both the St. Louis and Kansas City departments.

The top two officials at the St. Louis Police Officer's Association filed a suit in Cole County today that challenges the language voters will see when they sign the petition.

The suit contends the description is "unfair, deceptive and misleading."

It starts with the phrase "local control," says the association's business manager, Jeff Roorda.

"You'd think there was some distant government controlling the police department, when it's controlled very much locally here [in St. Louis]," he says. "When the budget is determined by the city, when the mayor hand-picks the police chiefs."

(That last statement isn't true. The Board of Police Commissioners is in charge of hiring and firing. And it's policy that the chief comes from within the SLMPD's ranks).

Roorda also disputes the notion that local governments will save $7.8 million

"First of all, the savings are imaginary, and second of all, the folks in outstate Missouri that are voting for this aren't going to enjoy any of those savings," he says.

He says auditor Tom Schweich unfairly based his cost estimate on numbers provided by Mayor Francis Slay, an outspoken supporter of local control and a frequent recipient of Rex Sinquefield's political largesse.

And he says Schweich didn't take into account the fact that the city would now be responsible for legal costs currently covered by the state.

A spokeswoman for the state attorney general's office says the state has spent $545,567 representing the SLMPD this fiscal year, and spent $290,171 in FY2010.