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.

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