On the Trail: What you need to know about Tuesday's municipal election
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 1, 2013: When St. Louis area voters go to the polls this week, it's fair to say that they won't be voting in any election that's achieved national prominence as did last August's primary.
But Tuesday’s slate of municipal elections could have a big impact on a person’s wallet. That’s because cities, counties and school districts provide key services that ordinary citizens use. And those services — picking up trash, maintaining parkland and educating the next generation — don't come cheap.
While St. Louis voters provided finality on mayoral and aldermanic contests back in March, St. Louis County residents will go to the polls to decide on who will lead various municipalities.
And voters in the city and St. Louis County will deliver a verdict on Proposition P, a sales tax increase for sprucing up the Gateway Arch grounds, local parks and regional trails.
So, to get St. Louis residents up to speed, here are summaries — as well as links to past coverage — of some of the more notable contests on Tuesday’s ballot:
Tuesday's main event is Proposition P, a 3/16ths of 1-cent sales tax increase on ballots in St. Louis and St. Louis County. The measure must pass in both jurisdictions to take effect.
Proposition P is commonly referred to as the "Arch tax," because 30 percent of its proceeds would go toward sprucing up the grounds around the Gateway Arch. About 70 percent of the tax's money would go toward building a regional trail network and maintaining local parks.
Proponents of the initiative see the sales tax increase as a way to provide predictable and regular funding for a project to make the Arch's grounds more attractive. Others say that the money for local parks and trails could improve the quality of life in the region.
Critics, however, question the wisdom of using a local sales tax to make improvements on federal land — the Arch grounds constitute a national park. Others — including some members of the St. Louis Board of Alderman — wonder whether funding for parks should be a priority, when the region has other pressing problems.
If the proposition passes, it will break precedent: A spokesman for the National Parks Service couldn't find any example of a local sales tax going to improve a national park or monument.
St. Louis' municipal elections
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay must dispatch Green Party nominee James McNeely to make history as the first chief executive to win four four-year terms.
But in practical terms, the Democratic mayor essentially accomplished that task in March, when he beat St. Louis Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed in the Democratic primary. That’s because winning the Democratic primary in St. Louis is, for the most part, tantamount to election.
Still, Slay isn’t necessarily slacking off. He’s released a web video showcasing how the city can assist younger entrepreneurs. And his campaign sent out huge mailers highlighting his multi-faceted sustainability plan, which could hit right into the wheelhouse of environmentally conscious voters who might consider voting for the Green Party.
To say McNeely’s run a low-key campaign may be an understatement. He has conducted few interviews, and he doesn’t appear to be actively campaigning for the position.
In addition to the mayoral contest, various aldermanic candidates who won in last month’s Democratic primaries face either Green Party or Republican opposition. But like Slay, those candidates are favored to win another four years toiling on Tucker Street.
St. Louis School Board
When the Special Administrative Board was established in 2007, St. Louis' elected school board lost its power. That hasn't stopped five candidates from seeking three open seats on the board, which still meets regularly.
Susan Jones, Bill Monroe, Tony Schilli, Kathy Styer and Andrew Wimmer are running for the open slots on the seven-member board. Three incumbents are not running for re-election.
At a recent forum, many of the candidates criticized the money and attention flowing to the city’s charter schools. Some also want to focus on reducing class sizes, increasing parental involvement in their children’s education and improving safety in the traditional schools.
St. Louis County municipalities
Most of the electoral action will take place in St. Louis County, which is home to a number of competitive contests for mayoral and city council posts.
Some of the county’s larger municipalities — including Clayton, Chesterfield and Fenton — have competitive, open races for mayor. In other parts of the county, such as Valley Park and Normandy, incumbent mayors are facing stiff challenges.
Tuesday will be judgment day for numerous candidates seeking slots on city councils. That includes three spirited races in Ellisville, a west St. Louis County town rocked recently by efforts to impeach Mayor Adam Paul.
While most suburban mayors work part time and have limited powers, contests for the posts often prompt plenty of discussion over day-to-day issues, such as trash collection, business development and traffic flow.
In addition to Proposition P, St. Louis and St. Louis County voters will decide who will fill a slot on the St. Louis Community College’s Board of Trustees.
Incumbent board member Joan McGivney — a former member of the Webster Groves School Board and the Webster Groves City Council — is facing off against Allison Stenger, Robert Johns and Samuel Henderson.
Stenger — an attorney who is married to St. Louis County Councilman Steve Stenger, D-Affton — is perhaps McGivney’s most serious challenger. Campaign finance reports show that she’s spent nearly $10,000 on the contest, primarily on mailers and signs. McGivney’s campaign has shelled out about $350 thus far.
Tuesday will also decide the fate of bond issues in the Valley Park, Normandy, University City and Rockwood school districts, among other places. The Rockwood bond issue attracted considerable controversy, especially after state Auditor Tom Schweich issued a scathing report on the district.
Perhaps the most unusual contest is in west St. Louis County, where former state Rep. Cole McNary, R-Chesterfield, is squaring off against former state Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, for a seat on the Monarch Fire Protection District Board.
Monarch is one of the county’s larger fire districts, encompassing all or part of Chesterfield, Wildwood, Clarkson Valley, Ballwin, Creve Coeur and Maryland Heights. And how the board operates — and pays its employees — could set a precedent for the rest of the county.
While the job pays only a few hundred dollars a month, that hasn’t stopped both candidates from spending thousands of dollars for the open seat.
That perhaps shows how local politics may not produce the highest stakes, but they can provide plenty of drama.
On the Trail, a weekly column, weaves together some of the intriguing threads from the world of Missouri politics.