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.

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

A group seeking to merge St. Louis and St. Louis County sent a new version of their constitutional amendment to Missouri’s secretary of state’s office Monday that contains mostly minor changes.

Better Together described the changes to the amendment as “technical,” dealing with the handling of pensions and existing debt. It also makes some clarifications to language creating a new fire-protection district encompassing St. Louis. (Click here to read the new petition and here to read the summary of changes.)

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

Questions about Better Together's proposal to merge St. Louis and St. Louis County continue to pour in from St. Louis Public Radio listeners and readers via our Curious Louis project.

Under Better Together's proposal, St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger (right) would serve as the transitional mayor of a united St. Louis metro government until 2025, assuming he stays in office through January 2021.
File photo I Chad Davis | St. Louis Public Radio

The leaders of St. Louis County’s municipalities are trying to jumpstart a process, known as the Board of Freeholders, to get a St. Louis-St. Louis County merger plan to only city and county voters — an alternative to a proposal from a group known as Better Together that would take that issue statewide.

There’s one problem with that approach: St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger and St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson are responsible for appointing most of that board and both are solidly behind the Better Together plan. That gives them little incentive to endorse a process that could produce a competing proposal.

Under a plan released Monday to merge St. Louis and St. Louis County, St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger would become the first "metro mayor" of the merged government.
File photo I Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

At the beginning of 2019, St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger was in a tough political spot.

The Democratic official was sworn in to a second term with no reliable allies on the St. Louis County Council. And county voters recently amended the charter to substantially reduce his power over the budget.

But if statewide voters agree to a plan laid out by Better Together next year, Stenger would be in line to become the first metro mayor — a position that gives him sizable policy power over the region.

Chesterfield City Hall
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

Some St. Louis municipal leaders are continuing to look into potential alternatives to the Better Together proposal that would merge St. Louis and St. Louis County.

Chesterfield City Council members voted to direct city staff to look into possible steps for Chesterfield that could lead to an independent Chesterfield County or a Chesterfield merger with St. Charles County.

Under Better Together's proposal, St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger (right) would serve as the transitional mayor of a united St. Louis metro government until 2025, assuming he stays in office through January 2021.
File photo I Chad Davis | St. Louis Public Radio

Better Together’s proposal to create a unified St. Louis and St. Louis County is expected to be on the November 2020 ballot.

Under the proposal, residents would elect one mayor, one prosecutor, one assessor and a 33-member council to represent the region.

St. Louis Public Radio answered 11 of the biggest questions about Better Together's proposal on Monday, but many questions remain.

Readers and listeners submitted dozens of questions about the proposal to our Curious Louis project. We'll continue to answer more in the weeks and months ahead.

After nearly 150 years of separation, will St. Louis and St. Louis County reunite in 2020?

If Better Together has its way, the answer will be yes. The group has released a formal proposal to merge the city and county governments and police departments and plans to gather enough signatures to put the issue on the Missouri ballot.

Tuesday's talk show included conversations with Better Together staff members Dave Leipholtz and Marius Johnson-Malone and then with the Municipal League of Metro St. Louis' Pat Kelly and Creve Coeur Mayor Barry Glantz, who oppose Better Together's plan.
Evie Hemphill & Lara Hamdan | St. Louis Public Radio

On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh talked with backers of two competing approaches to a potential reunification of the St. Louis and St. Louis County governments.

First up was a conversation with two staff members – Dave Leipholtz and Marius Johnson-Malone – from Better Together, the organization that formally unveiled a much-anticipated proposal for a city-county merger on Monday after several years of study.

Following that in-depth interview was a discussion with Pat Kelly, executive director of the Municipal League of Metro St. Louis, which voted Jan. 24 to pursue an alternative route to possible reunification. Creve Coeur Mayor Barry Glantz also joined the conversation.

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.
Chad Davis | St. Louis Public Radio

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 — a move that dramatically changes how the region’s residents are represented and how they receive services.

Better Together is proposing an ambitious plan that would be decided through a statewide vote. Proponents contend it will scrape away layers and 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.

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 at 7 a.m. on Feb. 11 with answers to 11 more questions about the proposed metro government structure — Better Together has released its report recommending a St. Louis-St. Louis County merger. The proposal would create St. Louis Metro — a unified government that would merge city and county offices — and restrict the taxing authority of St. Louis County municipalities.

The proposal would also combine municipal courts and police departments.

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson and St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger take questions after announcing their support for a task force to examine government spending in June 2017.
File photo I Wayne Pratt I St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 10:25 p.m. with muncipal league comment.

The region’s municipal officials are working to counter a proposal that would merge St. Louis and St. Louis County through a statewide vote.

It’s the latest pushback against a forthcoming plan from Better Together, which has been studying the possibility of a city-county union for the past few years.

State Rep. Dottie Bailey, R-Eureka
David Kovaluk I St. Louis Public Radio

State Rep. Dottie Bailey joins St. Louis Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum to talk about her first few days as a member of the Missouri House.

The Eureka Republican represents parts of St. Louis and Franklin counties, including municipalities such as Wildwood, Pacific and Eureka.

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson joined "St. Louis on the Air" on Thursday, Jan. 17, 2018.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

About seven weeks out from St. Louis’ March 5 primary race between several city politicians vying for Board of Alderman president, Mayor Lyda Krewson declined to specify on Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air which Democrat will have her vote.

“I haven’t made an endorsement yet,” she told host Don Marsh with a laugh. “It’s almost two months away, Don.”

Krewson did confirm that she plans to run for a second term that would begin in 2021.

“Of course, yes, I am,” said Krewson, who became St. Louis’ first woman mayor in April 2017. “And you know, you can’t get everything that you want done in four years.”

Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, talks with reporters on the first day of the 2019 legislative session.
Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio

The Republican and Democratic leaders of the Missouri Senate are expressing misgivings about who could be voting on a proposal to merge St. Louis and St. Louis County.

Better Together, a group that’s been studying the concept of a city-county union for more than five years, is slated to release a plan on St. Louis-St. Louis County consolidation this month. One major detail — first reported by the St. Louis Business Journal — that’s united both GOP Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz and Democratic Senate Minority Leader Gina Walsh is the idea that the plan will be decided by a statewide vote — and not just residents of St. Louis and St. Louis County.

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Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

The St. Louis region has been buzzing in recent days with renewed talk of potentially merging St. Louis and St. Louis County, which have been separate jurisdictions for nearly a century and a half.

The organization Better Together is expected to soon release its proposal for such a plan, potentially reversing what has become known as “the Great Divorce” of 1876. A proposal to consolidate the St. Louis Metropolitan and St. Louis County police departments has also attracted attention.

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh talked with Terry Jones, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, about the history of the jurisdictions, previous efforts to unify them and the latest efforts to do so.

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson and St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger take questions after announcing their support for a task force to examine government spending in June 2017.
File photo I Wayne Pratt I St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 2:15 pm Jan. 4 with police consolidation proposal — The top elected officials in St. Louis and St. Louis County agree that a plan to combine the two jurisdictions needs to go to a statewide — and not just local — vote.

It comes as the group that’s been studying the possibility of a city-county merger is expected to roll out its proposal in the coming weeks.

St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell hugs Missouri Supreme Court Judge George Draper III on Jan. 1, 2019. Bell is the first African-American to serve as St. Louis County prosecutor. Jan. 1, 2019
Carolina Hidalgo I St. Louis Public Radio

Nearly five years ago, Wesley Bell had a murky political future.

He fell short of winning a seat on the St. Louis County Council after losing decisively to incumbent Hazel Erby.

Flash forward to the first day of 2019 and Bell’s political fortunes have dramatically shifted. After winning election to a Ferguson City Council seat after the shooting death of Michael Brown, Bell shocked St. Louis County by easily upending Prosecutor Bob McCulloch. As he looked upon hundreds of people gathered for his Tuesday afternoon inauguration, Bell acknowledged the opportunity, and challenge, ahead.

Former St. Louis County police chief at his campaign kickoff for St. Louis County Council
Jo Mannies | St. Louis Public Radio

Former St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch is pledging to accept no campaign donations for his Republican campaign for St. Louis County Council. And if elected this fall, he says he’ll work for a county charter change that would limit campaign donations for county officials.

At his campaign kickoff today in Sunset Hills, Fitch blamed the lack of donation limits for some of the rancor between council members and County Executive Steve Stenger.  He contends that large contributions to Stenger, in particular, have exacerbated some of the disputes.

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