Would Fewer Wards Make St. Louis Better? New Committee Will Investigate
The St. Louis Board of Aldermen is forming a Ward Reduction Advisory Committee to get public input as to what going from 28 to 14 wards would mean for the city.
The committee will study the effects of ward reduction on the Board of Aldermen, budgets and constituent services. The group will then be tasked with providing recommendations.
“This is really a chance for residents in the city of St. Louis to say, ‘These are my concerns, or this is what I would like to see happen, here are some opportunities, here are some things that need to be addressed,’” said Alderwoman Heather Navarro, D-28 Ward.
Who Will Serve?
The committee will consist of 11 members. Navarro and Alderwoman Pam Boyd, D-27 Ward, serve as co-chairs. A representative from Mayor Lyda Krewson’s office and the city counselor's office will also serve on the committee.
Spots are open for three residents who will represent north St. Louis and south St. Louis and the central corridor. Two representatives will be chosen to represent the city at large. Two representatives from a university and a neighborhood nonprofit group will round out the committee.
Navarro said the group will schedule meetings with other city departments and submit its findings to the Board of Aldermen legislation committee by May 31, although that deadline could be extended. The legislation committee could then decide to accept the recommendations and present them to the board.
“I’m hearing from people that they want to see the city move in this direction; they think there’s opportunity for the city to be more efficient, more effective,” Navarro said.
A Polarizing Issue
The committee's formation comes seven years after city residents voted to reduce the number of wards from 28 to 14. Changes to ward sizes would go into effect following the results of the 2020 U.S. Census.
“We’ll receive the data in 2021, and then new lines will be drawn in 2022,” Navarro said. “2023 (would) be the first election of a board of 14 aldermen.”
But ward reduction has been met with a polarizing response within the Board of Aldermen.
Critics say reducing the number of wards in St. Louis will have little effect.
“People want immediate change,” said Alderman Brandon Bosley, D-3rd Ward. “Even when you take it down to 14, the problems that exist right now, today, will still exist then. That doesn’t give you a better city.”
Bosley has been a critical voice of ward reduction for the past few years. He voted for a 2018 bill aimed at challenging the 2012 decision to reduce the number of wards to 14. The bill would have put the question of ward reduction back on the ballot for the April 2019 election.
The bill made it to the perfection stage before being pulled by its sponsor, John Collins-Muhammad, D-21st Ward. Collins-Muhammad said he plans to re-introduce legislation challenging ward reduction this coming session.
Boyd, Bosley and Collins-Muhammad voted to put ward reduction back on the ballot. Bosley and Collins-Muhammad have also argued that ward reduction would diminish black political power in the city. Navarro said she voted against the bill due in part to historical low voter turnout.
She said issues of racial equity will be a focus of the ward reduction committee.
“We have a lot of good data from the equity indicator study,” Navarro said. “This committee, and I personally, am choosing to spend my time on figuring out how do we apply all of that to this process.”
Applications to join the committee will be accepted until next Friday, but Navarro said the deadline could be extended.
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