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St. Louis aldermen reject limiting ‘driving while Zooming’ during city meetings

A screenshot of the December 8, 2021 meeting of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen Zoom meeting
Screenshot / Rachel Lippmann
St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis aldermen, shown during a Zoom meeting in December, defeated an effort to limit participation in meetings by members who are driving while on the Zoom call.

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen on Friday narrowly rejected a rules change that would have limited the participation of members who drive while participating in virtual meetings.

The resolution from Alderwoman Anne Schweitzer of the 13th Ward was billed as being about safety — board members who chose to Zoom and drive would not be counted as present for purposes of a quorum, and could not vote on motions or legislation. They would have been able to participate in debates and could vote if they pulled over.

“This resolution is simply a safety rule change for our body to make both the members of the board participating in meetings safer, and also the people we share the roads with,” Schweitzer said.

But members of the Black Caucus objected fiercely to losing their ability to vote. Many, like Alderwoman Pam Boyd of the 27th Ward, saw it as an attempt at disenfranchisement led by younger, white progressives.

“You’re penalizing them because they have families, and they don’t just sit at home all day,” she said.

The Black Caucus members said they found it particularly insulting that the resolution came up at the last meeting during Black History Month.

The vote came the same week that the pedestrian advocacy group Trailnet released a report that showed pedestrian deaths in the city rose again in 2021.

The sometimes angry and bitter debate led a few members to ask that the board resume in-person meetings as soon as possible.

Rescue plan spending

The aldermen on Friday gave first-round approval to a measure allocating $87 million in spending in capital projects, including $69 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding.

While just one alderman, Jesse Todd of the 18th Ward, voted against the measure, many more expressed concern about the equity of the way the funds were distributed. Though some of the projects, such as buying replacement firetrucks and ambulances, benefit every ward, just one of the road-paving projects is in north St. Louis. And none of the bridges on the list to be repaired is located north of Delmar.

The measure’s sponsor said that city officials had identified the most critical needs and that a citizen advisory committee had also ranked projects.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann 

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

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