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 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.

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.
Wayne Pratt | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated Tuesday, Dec. 12: With the Missouri General Assembly slated to convene in a few weeks, the Municipal League of Metro St. Louis is scrambling in case state lawmakers decide to intervene in the region’s long-standing debate over a possible merger of St. Louis and St. Louis County.

The St. Louis County Council voted unanimously Tuesday night in favor of a resolution -- signed by at least 50 area municipalities -- that opposes any sort of  statewide vote on the matter. The St. Louis Board of Aldermen could face a similar request shortly.

Courtesy of Better Together

Discussions to merge the St. Louis city and county governments are underway by city residents.

About 100 people came out to a town hall meeting Monday night to express their support and concerns for a consolidation.

The nonprofit organization Better Together has organized a series of community discussions to encourage area residents to share their perspectives.

Marius Johnson-Malone is deputy director of community-based studies for the organization. He said he was encouraged by the crowd’s discussion.

Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, July 2017
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

On the latest edition of the Politically Speaking podcast, St. Louis Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum and Jo Mannies welcome back Sen. Andrew Koenig to the program.

Koenig is a Manchester Republican and the main sponsor of abortion legislation that’s being considered in the Missouri legislature’s current (though interrupted) special session. Senators are expected to return on Monday.

Will Ross, the associate dean for diversity at Washington University, is part of a three-person panel tasked with coming up with a plan that could overhaul St. Louis' government.
File photo I Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio

Will Ross may play a substantial role in ending the more than 140-year separation between St. Louis and St. Louis County.

The Memphis, Tennessee, native is the associate dean for diversity at Washington University and a member of a three-person panel that’s been given a year to put forward a plan to reshape St. Louis’ government. It’s part of an effort from a group called Better Together, which has released a number of studies criticizing the city-county separation.

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.
Wayne Pratt | St. Louis Public Radio

Top elected officials in St. Louis County and the city of St. Louis itself pledged Monday to cooperate on several issues, but stopped short of suggesting a full-fledged merger of governments. 

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson and County Executive Steve Stenger said they support establishing a task force that will be charged with finding ways to make area governments operate more efficiently. The task force will be part of Better Together, a nonprofit organization supported by financier Rex Sinquefield that focuses on examining whether the city and county should combine areas of government.

Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard told St. Louis Public Radio that St. Louis' governmental structure is woefully inefficient.
Carolina Hidalgo I St. Louis Public Radio

Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard hinted that next year’s legislative session could “shake up” the St. Louis region, especially if lawmakers back plans to combine St. Louis and St. Louis County or merge county municipalities.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Joplin Republican’s proclamation to St. Louis Public Radio elicited a mixed response. Some are willing to have the legislature help pare down the region’s cities, police departments and fire districts. Others, like Vinita Park Mayor James McGee, are not happy at the prospect of the state making wholesale changes to St. Louis’ governance, as opposed to St. Louis area residents.

A St. Louis Public Radio file photo of St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Our latest edition of the Politically Speaking podcast features St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, who’s making his first appearance since taking office more than two years ago.

Stenger had joined St. Louis Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum and Jo Mannies in 2014, when he was a candidate against then-Executive Charlie Dooley.  Stenger ousted Dooley in a combative Democratic primary, and narrowly won a general election contest against Republican Rick Stream.

 

St. Charles County executive Steve Ehlmann, Mayor Francis Slay, and St. Clair County executive Mark Kern (right) at the State of the Region breakfast on January 12, 2017
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

In what turned out to be his final inauguration speech in 2013, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay described St. Louis County as a place that “we confidently expect to re-enter in this decade.”

The Democrat might have been a bit overconfident, as it’s 2017 and there’s still strong opposition to the idea of a merger throughout St. Louis County. No one really knows what an actual merger would look like, either: Would St. Louis become a county municipality? Or would St. Louis and St. Louis County coalesce into one big city like Indianapolis did in the 1970s?

Still, the lack of headway hasn’t kept the topic from being a prime talking point in the St. Louis mayoral race. Proponents of a merger believe that combining jurisdictions creates some cost savings — and makes it easier to bring in big-ticket development projects.

Antonio French 2016 photo
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

The race to be the next St. Louis mayor is getting more crowded.

A day after St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson jumped in the contest and St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura Jones announced that she had filed paperwork to race money for a mayoral bid, St. Louis Alderman Antonio French revealed he too would seek to succeed St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay.

Brent Jones / St. Louis Public Radio

Has Indianapolis’ massive merger with its suburbs back in the 1970s saved taxpayers tons of money? Or has the public’s voice been muted by the huge city government that’s replaced all the smaller ones?

Those questions, in effect, are among the topics of upcoming studies by CitiesStrong, a new nonprofit made up of at least a dozen  current and former local officials in St. Louis County.

Steve Stenger
File photo by Alex Heuer | St. Louis Public Radio

It has been six months since St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger took office after winning a close race against Rick Stream.

Photo of police car
Jason Rojas | Flickr

Updated at 2 p.m. with comments from Chuck Wexler, local leaders. — A report from a national research group says St. Louis’ fragmented policing is hurting the region in many ways.

A rendering of the St. Louis riverfront stadium.
Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger says county taxpayers will no longer be asked to foot some of the bill for a new football stadium.

It’s a potentially complicating factor in conjuring up public financing to build the open-air facility on St. Louis' riverfront.

via Flickr | Alex Ford

A new report is criticizing many local governments in the St. Louis area for a lack of transparency.

As documented in the nonprofit organization Better Together's "Transparency Report," the group attempted to obtain basic financial and operational information from dozens of area municipalities that should be publicly accessible under Missouri’s Sunshine Law.

Would Municipalities Be Better Together?

Feb 17, 2015
Alex Heuer / St. Louis Public Radio

Is the St. Louis region more efficient and effective with municipalities, or as a unified entity? 

Better Together was created in 2013 to explore whether St. Louis County and city should consider merging services. After the August shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Better Together has focused on merging services between municipalities. The group has recently sponsored four town hall meetings to discuss how to improve relations between communities and police; it will release a report on its findings in April. The group already has released a study on St. Louis' municipal court system.

Beyond Housing CEO Chris Krehmeyer, left, Normandy Mayor Patrick Green and Cool Valley Mayor Viola Murphy pose for a photo after talking about municipality government with 'St. Louis on the Air' host Don Marsh on Feb. 5, 2015.
Alex Heuer / St. Louis Public Radio

If coalitions can get into schoolyard fights, then they did Thursday afternoon.

For nearly a year, the Better Together coalition has explored whether St. Louis and St. Louis County should consider merging services. Within St. Louis County, some believe there also is a need for consolidation: Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, has introduced a bill that would eliminate some of St. Louis County's smaller municipalities.

Chuck Wexler (in yellow tie), the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, leads a small group discussion on policing in St. Louis on January 7, 2015.
Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio

Residents of the St. Louis area are getting a chance to answer the question, what does your ideal police department look like?

Berlin 1986
selbst fotografiert | Wikipedia

People in Berlin and throughout Germany recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. These commemorations should prompt some reflection closer to home, specifically on the state of local government in the St. Louis area. Doing so raises a fundamental question: If it’s possible for East and West Germany to be reunited, why can’t there be meaningful municipal reorganizations in St. Louis city and county? Whatever barriers we perceive in our community are minuscule in comparison with those that had to be dismantled in Germany.

Better Together’s Dave Leipholtz, Washington University law school professor Mae Quinn and Thomas Harvey of the Arch City Defenders speak at Monday's Ferguson Commission meeting.
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio | file photo

Since the unrest in Ferguson began in early August, curbing the power of municipal courts has become a focal point for policymakers from across the political spectrum. 

But at Monday’s meeting of the Ferguson Commission at St. Louis University’s Il Monastero, Maryland Heights resident Dan Hyatt brought the issue home.

The IT professional told commissioners how he was put in jail in Breckenridge Hills for three hours after a disagreement over whether he stopped at a stop sign. He said it was a galvanizing experience.

Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, is leading a study for Better Together about how the region's policing agencies should be structured.
Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio

When Better Together formed last year, it was already planning to examine how the region polices itself — especially because St. Louis County has so many different departments that patrol towns and cities.

But the review became more than just a theoretical exercise after the shooting death of Michael Brown. The roughly 60 police departments throughout St. Louis County underwent intense scrutiny for aggressive ticketing, little racial diversity and the targeting of African Americans. There have been widespread calls for substantial changes.

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