Although it has officially opposed a move to bring the city of St. Louis into St. Louis County, the Chesterfield City Council now finds itself supporting a plan that could have that outcome if city and county voters approved it.
No, the city hasn’t changed its earlier position. But it views a plan by the Municipal League of Metro St. Louis as a preferred alternative to a move for a statewide vote on whether to force the consolidation of government entities in the city and county.
Under the League’s proposal, the organization would need to gather some 20,000 voter signatures favoring the appointment of a Board of Freeholders by County Executive Steve Stenger and St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson.
At the council’s Jan. 23 meeting, Chesterfield City Administrator Mike Geisel explained that the Missouri Constitution authorizes the procedure for addressing the city-county reorganization issue. He described it as a “defensive” tactic to counter the move by the Better Together organization to collect more than 160,000 voter signatures needed to put a measure on the November 2020 statewide ballot calling for a city-county merger.
“We [St. Louis County municipalities such as Chesterfield] can either sit back, do nothing and abandon the field to Better Together and its proposal, or we can take action that gives us better control over what happens in our own area,” Geisel told councilmembers at an agenda review session before the council meeting.
Consensus was that the League proposal needed to be discussed in the council’s formal public meeting where the issue and factors involved in decision-making would be on the record. Although open to the public, agenda review sessions are an informal discussion of items up for consideration at that night’s regular meeting and no official records are kept.
Chesterfield Mayor Bob Nation had informed the council that he wanted its input on the issue before he was called on to vote on the League’s proposal at a meeting the organization will hold at the Chesterfield City Hall beginning at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 24.
Nation reportedly was not feeling well and was not at the Wednesday night session.
After a brief discussion at the council’s regular meeting, members voted unanimously to support the League’s proposal. Councilmember and Mayor Pro Tem Barbara McGuinness presided in Nation’s absence.
Contacted after the meeting, Nation said he is “glad the council made the decision it did. At this point, I think it’s what we need to do – to get some people around a table to come up with an approach that makes sense to those directly affected, the residents of the city and the county.”
Article 6 of the Missouri Constitution says a 19-member Board of Freeholders will include nine selected by the mayor of St. Louis and approved by the city’s board of aldermen. Nine also will be appointed by the “county supervisor” and approved by the county council. The governor appoints one member, who cannot be a resident of either the city or the county.
In the case of the city and county appointees, no more than five can be a member of or affiliated with a particular political party.
Although the constitution calls for any plan agreed to by the Board of Freeholders to be submitted within a year after it begins its work, there is nothing saying it must come up with any proposal. Nor are there detailed instructions on what a plan must include, other than necessary assessment and taxation provisions.
However, Geisel reasoned that pursuing the Board of Freeholders alternative would demonstrate the city and county are assuming responsibility for their future direction and not simply letting others guide the process.
Better Together’s approach reportedly would call for constitutional changes enabling the kind of consolidated local government structure the organization advocates.
An interesting aspect of the dueling approaches is that Stenger and Krewson, who would have the main responsibility for appointing the Board of Freeholders, already have been reported as supporting the Better Together proposal.