St. Louis City-County Merger | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis City-County Merger

After decades of contemplation and debate, a group known as Better Together is recommending an end to the “Great Divorce” between St. Louis and St. Louis County.

Better Together is proposing an ambitious plan to create a unified metro government and police department and limit municipalities' ability to levy sales taxes. The plan would be decided through a statewide vote.

Proponents contend it will scrape away layers of local government that has been holding the St. Louis region back. Opponents believe the plan will create an unwieldy and large centralized government that could be implemented against the will of city and county residents.

St. Louis County Councilman Mark Harder is sworn in on Tuesday afternoon. Jan. 1, 2019
File photo I Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis County Councilman Mark Harder is the latest guest on Politically Speaking, where he talked with St. Louis Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum and Julie O’Donoghue about the titanic changes in county government.

Harder represents the council’s 7th District, which includes Ballwin, Chesterfield, Ellisville and Wildwood. With recent departures of council members, the Ballwin Republican is now the most senior member of the council.

From left, Wesley Bell, Cristina Garmendia and Wally Siewert joined Wednesday's talk show.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

With the Better Together proposal that had sought to consolidate much of St. Louis City and County government now no longer up for consideration, what’s next for the region, especially when it comes to addressing racial equity issues?

FOCUS St. Louis is asking this question and more at a free event sponsored by the organization this Thursday evening at the Missouri History Museum. Titled Equity in City/County Reform: Political Representation and Criminal Justice, the gathering will bring together a variety of speakers from both city and county.

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson gives her State of the City address to the Board of Aldermen on May 23, 2019.
Corrine Ruff I St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson used the first State of the City address in recent memory to continue her advocacy for a city-county merger.

But with the demise of the statewide Better Together plan, Krewson isn’t rushing to start a process that could place a merger proposal before city and county voters.

Members of the senate walk onto the floor of the House chambers ahead of this year's State of the State address.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

After a week that featured titanic battles over high-profile legislation, Missouri lawmakers are heading into the final day with a lot on their plate.

The unfinished business set for Friday includes final passage of abortion legislation that’s made national headlines, as well as a bill to overhaul the low-income housing tax-credit program.

St. Louis Alderman Jack Coatar
Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio

Alderman Jack Coatar joins St. Louis Public Radio’s Rachel Lippmann and Jason Rosenbaum in talking about what to expect in the next few months at the St. Louis Board of Aldermen.

Coatar represents the city’s 7th Ward, which includes neighborhoods like downtown St. Louis, Soulard, Lafayette Square and Compton Heights. He was elected to a full term on the board in 2017 after winning a 2015 special election.

A group known as Better Together is proposing a plan to merge St. Louis and St. Louis County. They're planning to get the measure on the 2020 ballot.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

The Better Together plan to merge St. Louis and St. Louis County was polarizing, but there was one aspect that many acknowledged would have been a big win for the region — a single vision for economic development.

Now the question for many economic development leaders is how to move forward with that vision with Better Together being put on hiatus this week.

Experts say that under the status quo, the regional economy has lagged for more than a decade, in part because economic development groups have spun in circles using tax incentives to compete for the same business.

State Auditor Nicole Galloway, right, slammed Carpenter for "mismanagement" -- and criticized her response to the audit.
File Photo | Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio

The St. Louis County Council wants state Auditor Nicole Galloway to look into county government in the wake of Steve Stenger’s guilty plea on federal corruption charges.

That move came as St. Louis County Executive Sam Page announced that the county is getting back to the negotiating table with the owners of Northwest Plaza.

After only five months as the president of the St. Louis County NAACP, the national association suspended him for violating its bylaws.
Ashley Lisenby | St. Louis Public Radio

The St. Louis County NAACP is throwing its support behind the group’s suspended president even as the national association presses on with an investigation into the leader’s behavior.

“It is my hope that after John has his opportunity to prove the type of work he was doing, which was really good work, he can get made whole again and made president again,” interim president John Bowman said.

Washington University outgoing Chancellor Mark Wrighton (right) will lead an effort to implement Better Together's recommendations for a St. Louis city-county merger. He spoke at a press conference Jan. 28, 2019 at the Cheshire hotel.
File photo I Chad Davis | St. Louis Public Radio

When proponents of a city-county merger rolled out their long-awaited proposal in January, they thought they had everything in place for success.

They had more than five years of research, key political support and potential money from key donors like Rex Sinquefield to promote the plan to a statewide audience.

But things changed dramatically on Monday when the effort’s leader, Washington University Chancellor Mark Wrighton, acknowledged there would be no statewide bid to merge St. Louis and St. Louis County. It was a culmination of a frenetic period that saw the arrival of a multiracial, bipartisan opposition coalition to the merger — and immense criticism of some of the plan’s components.

A group known as Better Together is proposing a plan to merge St. Louis and St. Louis County. They're planning to get the measure on the 2020 ballot.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 7:30 p.m., May 6 — Better Together is withdrawing its effort to merge St. Louis and St. Louis County through a statewide initiative petition, instead regrouping to focus its efforts on trying to get only city and county residents to approve a plan sometime in the future.

For now, it’s the end of an ambitious proposal that would have reshaped regional government — but also stoked opposition from across the political spectrum.

“I find that many people do not attend to things that they hear about until it’s right in front of them and confronts them,” said Washington University Chancellor Mark Wrighton, who was leading the effort to implement the merger plan. “And it’s evident that our community needs more education about what is necessary, the problems we face, and how best to solve them.”

State Rep. Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, sponsored a constitutional amendment that would allow a legislator to serve up to 12 years in the House and Senate. It would have also established term limits for all statewide officials.
File photo I Carolina Hidalgo I St. Louis Public Radio

The Missouri House overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment requiring local approval for a city-county merger.

Whether that plan makes it to voters is an open question, especially since Rep. Dean Plocher’s measure needs to get past a potential Senate filibuster.

A lot sits vacant in the once-thriving Martindale-Brightwood neighborhhood on Indianapolis' east side. Residents say city leaders have neglected such neighborhoods in favor of downtown development.
Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

The Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood on the east side of Indianapolis was once a thriving working-class community supported by manufacturing and a nearby railroad. But in recent decades, the predominantly black neighborhood has suffered from decay. Many of its buildings have plywood over their windows, and vacant lots are filled with trash or scrap metal. Nearly 40 percent of people live in poverty.

Just south of the train tracks lies the city's revitalized downtown, with its soaring office towers and the looming Lucas Oil Stadium, home to the Indianapolis Colts. After the city and surrounding Marion County merged governments in 1970, Republican mayors focused their attention on downtown renewal. But critics of the consolidated government, Unigov, say it benefitted the few at the expense of the many. For them, the contrasting images in Indianapolis hold lessons for St. Louis, which is weighing a similar merger.

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page prepares to answer questions from reporters on April 30, 2019.
Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio

Less than 24 hours after being named St. Louis County Executive, Sam Page is already erasing some of his predecessor’s mark on government.

And in a wide-ranging meeting with reporters Tuesday afternoon he expressed serious concerns about the proposal to merge St. Louis and St. Louis County, an opinion that could impact the creation of a metro government — and Page’s political future.

<p><strong>Better Together-Style Merger In Indianapolis Created Winners And Losers</strong></p> <p>Backers of the ambitious plan to merge governments in St. Louis and St. Louis County have pointed to the success of Indianapolis which completed its own mer
Sarah Fentem | St. Louis Public Radio

Backers of the ambitious plan to merge governments in St. Louis and St. Louis County have pointed to the success of Indianapolis, which completed its own merger 50 years ago. Since then, Indianapolis has been a Midwest success story, with a gleaming downtown, a business boom and steady regional population growth.

But the success of Indiana's capital was made possible by political maneuvers that allowed Republicans to gain the upper hand in Unigov, Indianapolis' version of merged government. Critics say the city's success largely came at the expense of black residents and Democratic voters.

On April 22, 2019, St. Louis County Councilwoman Hazel Erby, D-University City and other black political leaders announced their position on the NAACP's endorsement for the city-county merger. The same day they called for John Gaskin III to resign as pres
File photo | Chad Davis | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 7:45 a.m., April 23, with comment from a Unite STL spokesperson — More than 30 African American political leaders from the St. Louis metro area are calling for the resignation of St. Louis County NAACP President John Gaskin III.

The announcement came Monday afternoon at the Cool Valley City Hall, several days after political leaders accused Gaskin of having a conflict of interest after he revealed he is being paid by Unite STL. The organization is the political arm pushing for the Better Together’s city-county merger recommendations. Gaskin announced the St. Louis County NAACP was in favor of the merger on April 18.

Community activists, including State Rep. Bruce Franks Jr., are asking Gov. Mike Parson to pardon or commute the sentence of Joshua Williams.
File photo I Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Rep. Bruce Franks returns for his third appearance on Politically Speaking, where the St. Louis Democrat talked about how he’s been faring during his third year in the Missouri House.

Franks first burst on the Missouri political scene in 2016, when he defeated (after a high-profile redo election) incumbent Penny Hubbard. He was elected to another term last year without opposition, getting another two years to represent a part of eastern St. Louis.

St. Louis Treasurer Tishuara Jones joined Friday's "St. Louis on the Air." April 19, 2019.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

On Thursday, St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura Jones announced that she will be reevaluating the city’s relationships with the banks that handle its money, with the goal of getting those financial institutions providing better services to low- and middle-income areas.

John Gaskin III, President of the St. Louis County Branch of the NAACP, announces his support for the Better Together proposal on April 18, 2019.
Corinne Ruff | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 5:30 p.m., April 19, with Dellwood Mayor Reggie Jones calling for the resignation of the St. Louis County NAACP president — Better Together’s city-county merger proposal received a significant endorsement from the St. Louis County branch of the NAACP.

The announcement came Thursday from St. Louis County Branch NAACP President John Gaskin III, who faced blowback following revelations that he is a paid consultant for Better Together's political advocacy arm.

Gaskin said he believes the proposal will result in significant social change across the metro area.

Members of the senate walk onto the floor of the House chambers ahead of this year's State of the State address.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 3 p.m. on Thursday to detail Senate action on nonbinding merger resolution.

In a Capitol building often defined by division, state Rep. Peter Merideth believes Better Together’s city-county merger proposal is unifying the disparate St. Louis delegation.

But the St. Louis Democrat said it’s not the kind of unity that proponents probably wanted or expected.

“One thing that we’ve seen in this building is a remarkable amount of regional and bipartisan unity in the idea that this is the wrong way to go about a merger in St. Louis,” Merideth said. “I think the thing that we all agree on is that it should not be happening with a statewide vote that doesn’t allow any real, true local control over our own fate.”

Rep. Dean Plocher
Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio

Rep. Dean Plocher is the latest guest on Politically Speaking, where the Des Peres Republican primarily talked about a potential merger between St. Louis and St. Louis County.

Plocher represents the 89th House District, which includes parts of Town & Country, Huntleigh, Des Peres and Country Life Acres. Plocher, an attorney by trade, is the chairman of the influential House General Laws Committee.

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