Category Archives: Local

Better Together Unveils Controversial Plan

St. Louis City Mayor Lyda Krewson (left) and St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger have given their approval of the Better Together plan despite strong criticisms.

St. Louis City Mayor Lyda Krewson (left) and St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger have given their approval of the Better Together plan despite strong criticisms.

By Free Radical

After weeks of speculation, Better Together released its ambitious, and controversial plan for a St. Louis City/County merger at a press conference at the Cheshire Hotel on Monday. As suspected, the organization which formed in 2013, will aim to put the merger issue on a statewide ballot. If approved it will set up a “metro government” with one mayor and 33 council members representing the entire region.

Outgoing Washington University chancellor Mark Wrighton will head the effort to cultivate buy in into the project. At the Monday meeting, he urged metropolitan residents to be “bold, determined, innovative and open to new ideas about best policies and programs to meet the formidable challenges of our region.”

Yet the plan has its quickly attracted a bevy of detractors. Veteran St. Louis journalist Sylvester Brown Jr. pointed out the irony of he fact that “We’re now asking the ‘white flight’ people who vacated the city for the perceived benefits of the ‘burbs,’ to now become decision-makers and stewards of the city.”

The plan threatens to do just that. St. Louis County, with its large population, would have the ability to dilute Black political power in St. Louis which is still predominantly Black.

If the plan is approved, St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, barring his impeachment or resignation, would become the regional mayor if the merger is passed starting in 2021. He along with current St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell and St. Louis County Assessor Jake Zimmerman would remain in their positions until until 2025 when new elections would be held.

Critics have largely argued this plan would ensure that Stenger, who has been a strong supporter of the plan, would oversee its implementation. This would also give Stenger significant political power to select region-wide positions such as recorded of deeds and license collector. The St. Louis City versions of the position would be dissolved and absorbed by the St. Louis County.

Opponents of the Better Together plan have also claimed that it is another attempt by its main backer and local financier Rex Sinquefield to not only further open the region to favorable financial interests, but also eliminate the city’s earnings tax which levies a one-percent tax on people who live or work in the city. Under the Better Together plan, the tax will be phased out over ten years.

Perhaps predictably, alternate proposals have surfaced. Days before the unveiling of the Better Together plan, the locally based Municipal League called for the periodically used Board of Freeholders to initiate a vote that would only include St. Louis City and County rather than a statewide ballot measure.

Metro Board Plans End Run of City/County Merger

With Better Tomorrow's advocacy for a statewide ballot to force a city/county merger, other local politicians have considered a local vote on the measure.

With Better Tomorrow’s advocacy for a statewide ballot to force a city/county merger, other local politicians have considered a local vote on the measure.

By Free Radical

On Thursday evening, the Municipal League agreed to initiate the convening of the Board of Freeholders. The periodically convened board is appointed by the St. Louis City mayor, St. Louis County executive, and Missouri governor. According to its supporters, it is constitutionally empowered to oversee a potential merger between St. Louis City and County, a move which has been proposed most recently by Better Together. The Better Together plan, which is scheduled to be released on Monday, is rumored to include a statewide ballot initiative. However, critics of the plan believe that a potential merger would be best decided by residents of St. Louis City and County only.

Ferguson mayor James Knowles III who attended the Municipal League meeting concurs. “This is the way we believe that the constitution intended for St. Louis City and St. Louis County voters to look at the issues pertaining to local governance here and give us the opportunity to make any changes,” Knowles said. “A statewide vote’s not required. And any attempt to do it by a statewide vote, frankly, we believe, is just circumventing the will of the voters here in the region.”

The Missouri Constitution grants the Board of Freeholders the power to “formulate and adopt any other plan for the partial or complete government of all or any part of the city and the county.”  However some skeptics believe that there are limits to the Board of Freeholders’ authority.

Chris Pieper, an attorney for Blitz, Bardgett, & Deutsch who has been working with Better Tomorrow, surely thinks so. Pieper told stlpublicradio.org  that the Freeholders plan would have no “no authority to address potentially conflicting other constitutional provisions” and “limited authority to address and supersede existing laws.”

Likely, given the multiple interests involved, even if the Board of Freeholders or the Better Tomorrow prevails, either plan will likely be subject to a lengthy slate of lawsuits and adjudication.

New County Prosecutor Bell Expands Alternative Courts

By Free Radical

New St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell has already made his imprint on the office.

New St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell has already made his imprint on the office.

Newly elected St. Louis County Prosecutor wasted little time to make reforms he promised while on the campaign trail. At a Tuesday news conference he announced that he would expand the county’s drug and mental health court system.

He explained, “When non-violent offenders receive treatment, they are less likely to reoffend, which can help break the cycle of escalation that so often starts with addiction or mental illness and ends in violent crime or death by drug overdose. By turning these lives around, we will make St. Louis safer for everyone.”

Drug and mental health courts generally tend to be less punitive and more rehabilitative. Defendants are usually spared from having felonies on their record if they complete a treatment program.

Bell’s plan also includes linking indviduals accused of crimes with job opportunities through the St. Louis Urban League and housing assistance with Beyond Housing.

In the first days of Bell’s tenure he has also announced that St. Louis County will no longer prosecute marijuana possession cases when there are less than 100 grams. Parents who fail to pay child support will not be prosecuted. Also, individuals who are accused of misdemeanors will not be subject to cash bail.

Daughter of Stockley Victim to Get 500K Increase

By MCNS Staff

Protests that occurred after Jason Stockley's trial claimed malfeasance. A new discovery legitimates their position.

Protests that occurred after Jason Stockley’s trial claimed malfeasance. A new discovery legitimates their stance.

According to local reports, the daughter of a man who was shot by former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley in 2011 will be paid an additional $500,000 to resolve claims that lawyers for city and state officials concealed evidence. This brings the total settlement in the case of the death of Anthony Smith resulting from a police chase to $1.4 million.

Both sides filed a motion to approve the settlement on Thursday. The motion details that even though the settlement was agreed to on Oct. 16, “hashing out the details” took weeks.

Local reports also state that officials also have agreed to release the full version of a report that found “clear discovery violations” when evidence was not turned over to the lawyers for Anthony Lamar Smith’s daughter.

Stockley was acquitted of murder charges stemming from his 2011 fatal shooting of Anthony Smith after having pleaded not guilty. The acquittal was followed by demonstrations protesting police brutality and calling for law enforcement reforms which ended in dozens of arrests and injuries, including the police beating of an undercover officer posing as a protester.