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St. Louis voters to register opinion of local versus state control of city police

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 9, 2010 - The St. Louis Board of Aldermen is asking the city's voters to express their views on state control of the city's Police Department, which hails back to the Civil War.

The board approved today a ballot proposal to put the question on the Nov. 2 ballot. The proposal reads as follows:

"The Missouri Legislature took governance of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department during the Civil War. Do you believe that governance of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department should be returned to the city of St. Louis?"

In an official sense, the city voters' views won't amount to much since the proposal is simply "a non-binding preferential'' measure. Only the Legislature can act to return control of the police department to City Hall.

But in a political sense, the vote -- especially if it's in favor of city control -- could be used to A) pressure the state Legislature to give serious consideration to the idea, and B) press the city police rank and file to quit fighting local control.

The ballot measure also might help encourage more city voters to go to the polls Nov. 2.

In addition, the aldermen voted to put St. Louis in the same class as Kansas City and University City, by extending anti-discrimination protections to "gender identity" when it comes to housing, public accommodations and employment.

The city of St. Louis already includes "sexual orientation'' in the protected categories.

"Extending basic protections has been long overdue," said the bill's sponsor, Alderman Shane Cohn, D-25th Ward. "To remain competitive in today's marketplace and respect every member of the Saint Louis community, I am proud to have sponsored this bill."

The measure is expected to be signed into law as soon as next week by Mayor Francis Slay.

The bill is applauded by the region's top gay-rights group, PROMO, which has been seeking statewide anti-discrimination protections. Executive director A.J. Bockelman said, "This is a great step forward not just for St. Louis, but for all of Missouri. As we increase the number of people covered by basic protections, we will reach a tipping point where the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act, extending these same protections to all LGBT Missourians, becomes the natural next step."

The St. Louis aldermen are now on break until Sept. 17.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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