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Government, Politics & Issues

St. Louis Aldermen Stress Compromise As Ward Reduction Talks Begin

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen chambers on July 7, 2017.
File photo | Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio
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An aldermanic committee will draw a new map of the city with half as many wards, as mandated by voters nearly a decade ago.

The once-a-decade process of redistricting in St. Louis is being further complicated by the city’s looming deadline at the end of the year to slash the number of wards in half.

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen’s legislation committee met for the first time Tuesday in what is expected to be a long and contentious process to redraw the city with 14 wards instead of 28. Aldermen have attempted numerous times over the years to block ward reduction, which voters approved in 2012.

“It’s the beginning of a long journey,” said 10th Ward Alderman Joseph Vollmer, who chairs the committee and is co-sponsoring the bill that will lay out the redistricting plan.

The committee will meet at least once a week over the next eight to 10 weeks and will hear from experts about how to approach redistricting in a fair and equitable way for residents.

Board President Lewis Reed, who is also co-sponsoring the bill, said one thing the committee will need to contend with is that the population is unevenly declining, with many more Black residents continuing to leave wards in north St. Louis.

Reed and other aldermen stressed the need for collaboration and compromise.

“Everyone will lose something through this process, that’s just where we’re at. But compromise,” he said. “If you’re one of these people who come to the table and have to have 100% of what you want, you are going to be very disappointed because you will not get it.”

The committee will also discuss aldermanic changes for the new, smaller legislative body, which could include raising pay and adding administrative aides.

Alderwoman Sarah Martin, who represents the 11th Ward, said those things are critical to ensuring that new board members will be able to effectively distribute city services as their constituent base doubles in size.

“We can’t continue to devalue public service and expect different results,” she said.

Vollmer said the aldermanic committee is determined to redraw the ward map by the end of the year despite a pending ballot proposition that aims to get voters to weigh in during a special election in February on approving an independent commission to oversee the redistricting process.

“To us the ballot proposition is their worry not ours. We do our job, we do what we’re supposed to do,” Vollmer said. “We have to complete this process and do it as best we can.”

The first election with 14 wards will be in 2023.

Follow Corinne on Twitter: @corinnesusan

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