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Government, Politics & Issues

St. George eliminates city court, as next move to dissolve

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 26, 2011 - Aldermen in the tiny community of St. George have taken yet another step toward dissolution by voting Monday night to end their city court and contract with St. Louis County's court system.

The vote was 4-2, reflecting the bloc of aldermen who -- along with Mayor Carmen Wilkerson -- were elected as write-in candidates last April with the pledge to get rid of their town and join their neighbors as an unincorporated part of south St. Louis County.

The action came less than a week after Wilkerson and her aldermanic allies presented petitions to the St. Louis County Council, signed by more than 500 St. George residents seeking an election on whether to dissolve the 63-year-old community.

But as of Monday, the county Election Board had yet to begin reviewing the petitions to verify if enough qualified registered voters had signed them. Democratic elections director Rita Days said the council had so far failed to turn over the original petitions, sending over copies instead. The law requires that the Election Board must have the originals before proceeding, she said.

Council staff planned to rectify the problem swiftly, a spokesman said.

The confusion reflected, in part, how rare it is for an incorporated community to seek to dissolve. The last St. Louis County municipality to do so was Peerless Park in 1999; at the time, the town had only about 50 residents.

St. George is far larger, with about 1,200 residents -- a fact that has some disincorporation critics hopeful that, when word gets out, the mood will shift toward saving their town.

"If we educate the people, I don't see it passing," said resident Mary Kaufmann, a former mayor active in the Save Our City movement.

Kaufmann and her allies contend that they are out to save St. George's character as a close-knit community and to oppose the higher county utility taxes that both sides agree will be imposed. (Wilkerson's camp cite other taxes that will be disappear or be reduced.)

The sentiment was clearly split among the roughly dozen onlookers watching Monday night's proceeding. Resident Bob Burns is among the supporters of dissolution. He believes that the community's residents would be better off without a local government.

A hint of things to come was reflected by the presence of St. Louis County police officers at Monday's aldermanic meeting, perhaps to discourage any mishavior by either side.

The evening was spiced with a bit of acrimony, as aldermen discussed whether to seek an independent audit -- largely in response to mayoral opponents who question the state of the city's finances.

"My integrity is questioned, so I would welcome an audit," Wilkerson said.

Another former mayor, Mary Jo Fitzpatrick, stood up to read a statement in which she took exception to Wilkerson's recent public comments disparaging some former city officials as "the village idiots in charge" during a series of scandals involving finances or police misconduct. The local police department was dissolved two years ago, with the county police now providing law enforcement.

Fitzpatrick archly asked if more name-calling was forthcoming. "We also are Americans and have a right to oppose you without being called names," she said.

After the meeting, Wilkerson said that she included herself as one of the "idiots" since she had been an alderman during some of the more recent troubles. For example, the mayor said, "I'm not qualified to make decisions about road construction," which the municipality sorely needs but can't afford.

Such shortcomings in St. George's leadership for several decades, Wilkerson contended, provide arguably the strongest case for getting rid of the municipality and moving on.

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