Better Together

Brent Jones / St. Louis Public Radio

Has Indianapolis’ massive merger with its suburbs back in the 1970s saved taxpayers tons of money? Or has the public’s voice been muted by the huge city government that’s replaced all the smaller ones?

Those questions, in effect, are among the topics of upcoming studies by CitiesStrong, a new nonprofit made up of at least a dozen  current and former local officials in St. Louis County.

St. Louis County Crisis Intervention Team officers respond to as many as 60 calls per week involving a person with a mental health issue, according to Sgt. Jeremy Romo.
Jason Rojas | Flickr

Updated at 2 p.m. with comments from Chuck Wexler, local leaders. — A report from a national research group says St. Louis’ fragmented policing is hurting the region in many ways.

A rendering of the St. Louis riverfront stadium.
Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger says county taxpayers will no longer be asked to foot some of the bill for a new football stadium.

It’s a potentially complicating factor in conjuring up public financing to build the open-air facility on St. Louis' riverfront.

via Flickr | Alex Ford

A new report is criticizing many local governments in the St. Louis area for a lack of transparency.

As documented in the nonprofit organization Better Together's "Transparency Report," the group attempted to obtain basic financial and operational information from dozens of area municipalities that should be publicly accessible under Missouri’s Sunshine Law.

Alex Heuer / St. Louis Public Radio

Is the St. Louis region more efficient and effective with municipalities, or as a unified entity? 

Better Together was created in 2013 to explore whether St. Louis County and city should consider merging services. After the August shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Better Together has focused on merging services between municipalities. The group has recently sponsored four town hall meetings to discuss how to improve relations between communities and police; it will release a report on its findings in April. The group already has released a study on St. Louis' municipal court system.

Beyond Housing CEO Chris Krehmeyer, left, Normandy Mayor Patrick Green and Cool Valley Mayor Viola Murphy pose for a photo after talking about municipality government with 'St. Louis on the Air' host Don Marsh on Feb. 5, 2015.
Alex Heuer / St. Louis Public Radio

If coalitions can get into schoolyard fights, then they did Thursday afternoon.

For nearly a year, the Better Together coalition has explored whether St. Louis and St. Louis County should consider merging services. Within St. Louis County, some believe there also is a need for consolidation: Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, has introduced a bill that would eliminate some of St. Louis County's smaller municipalities.

Chuck Wexler (in yellow tie), the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, leads a small group discussion on policing in St. Louis on January 7, 2015.
Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio

Residents of the St. Louis area are getting a chance to answer the question, what does your ideal police department look like?

Better Together’s Dave Leipholtz, Washington University law school professor Mae Quinn and Thomas Harvey of the Arch City Defenders speak at Monday's Ferguson Commission meeting.
Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio

Since the unrest in Ferguson began in early August, curbing the power of municipal courts has become a focal point for policymakers from across the political spectrum. 

But at Monday’s meeting of the Ferguson Commission at St. Louis University’s Il Monastero, Maryland Heights resident Dan Hyatt brought the issue home.

The IT professional told commissioners how he was put in jail in Breckenridge Hills for three hours after a disagreement over whether he stopped at a stop sign. He said it was a galvanizing experience.

Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, is leading a study for Better Together about how the region's policing agencies should be structured.
Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio

When Better Together formed last year, it was already planning to examine how the region polices itself — especially because St. Louis County has so many different departments that patrol towns and cities.

But the review became more than just a theoretical exercise after the shooting death of Michael Brown. The roughly 60 police departments throughout St. Louis County underwent intense scrutiny for aggressive ticketing, little racial diversity and the targeting of African Americans. There have been widespread calls for substantial changes.

One of the most important changes to emerge from Michael Brown’s shooting is progress toward reform of St. Louis County’s balkanized municipal court system, where traffic tickets can derail poor people’s lives.

Change is certain.  The extent of the reform is not.

Comments last week by two of the most important figures in the reform efforts illustrate starkly different views of how seriously the muny court system is broken and how thoroughly it needs to be reformed.

Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio

It’s been nearly a year since a group called Better Together formed to look at St. Louis’ regional governance. From the outset, the organization met with optimism – and skepticism. 

Dr. Farouk / Flickr Creative Commons

Like many municipal services, the St. Louis City and County Departments of Health operate separately.

Although the city and county collaborate and serve many of the same purposes, the divide may make it more difficult for the agencies to help residents. That's according to a report released Wednesday by the group ‘Better Together,’ a project that is exploring whether or not St. Louis county and city should consider altering merging various services.

Courtesy of Better Together

A group studying the potential for a merger between St. Louis and St. Louis County released a report on regional economic development policy Wednesday. 

Among other things, Better Together’s 31-page report examines tax increment financing (TIF) in the city and the county. While the report emphasizes that some TIFs have been beneficial to municipalities, the study contends that the widespread use of TIFs is pitting municipalities against each other.

Jason Rosenbaum/St. Louis Public Radio

Ellisville Mayor Adam Paul is no stranger to fighting city hall.

At this point last year, Paul was clawing his way back into office after a high-profile – and at-times bizarre – impeachment saga. Despite an intense and expensive effort from his political adversaries to remove him, Paul eventually kept his job as mayor. His town has generally been out of the headlines ever since.

Jason Rosenbaum/St. Louis Public Radio

Greendale is home to about 700 people in north St. Louis County. The primarily residential community features stately brick houses along seven, well-maintained streets. The town’s city hall consists of two rooms inside an office building. It contracts with nearby Normandy for police service. Its big-ticket expenditures include cleaning streets and trimming trees.

Charlie Giraud found a lot to like. He’s lived in bigger St. Louis County municipalities like Ballwin and University City. He appreciated Greendale’s friendly neighbors, racial diversity and close-knit community.

Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio

(Updated 1:30 p.m. on Friday)

Former U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar says bringing local governments can strengthen the health – and brighten the future -- of urban communities. 

The Indiana Republican was the keynote speaker for a St. Louis University Law School symposium on merging St. Louis and St. Louis County. He was a key figure in banding together city of Indianapolis with Marion County in the 1970s.

Lugar says merging the two governments had skeptics. But he says it attracted jobs, sports teams and tourists – and reinvigorated civic life.

This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon. - Convenient ignorance explains most of the folly in human affairs. The things we don’t know really can hurt us. Worse, the things we think we know are often wrong.

Once a misconception gains general acceptance, calamity is all but assured because the flawed assumption allows us to logically proceed to absurd results. Unquestioned belief, masquerading as common knowledge, provides a kind of lazy wisdom — it relieves us of the burden of critical thought while lulling us into the delusion that we’re in control of events.

This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon. - When Better Together, a group tasked with studying a potential reunion between St. Louis and St. Louis County, launched last week, there was a lot of talk about the “lines” dividing the region.

Mayor Francis Slay said that few people cared if they “were crossing the line” while staying in the Cheshire Inn, a hotel straddling the city-county border. But, he later said, “the line does exist and many other lines exist as well.”

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon. - The chief executives of St. Louis and St. Louis County helped kickstart an endeavor to gather data -- and public input -- that could lead to a potential reunion of the two jurisdictions.

(Flickr Creative Commons User Daniel Leininger)

A new coalition called Better Together launched an effort today Tuesday to study whether St. Louis city and county should re-unite.

Yet coalition members were quick to explain they’re not advocating for a merger.

"We are not advocating reentry. We’re not advocating merger," said former Ambassador George Herbert Walker III, who is chairman of the group. "We’re just saying let’s get all the data together and then as a group decide what is best for St. Louis and the city of St. Louis at this time."