Update: The bill was introduced this morning but the board did not discuss the measure.
ST. LOUIS • Some city officials are trying – again – to reduce the size of the city Board of Aldermen.
But, this time, the fight is coming from within the board itself.
Phyllis Young, alderman for downtown, Soulard and Lafayette Square, is set to introduce a bill at Friday’s board meeting that would cut the number of city wards to 12 from 28.
Young said the city must change with the times – get more efficient, more streamlined, and easier to navigate. And the aldermen, she said, should lead the way.
“It's symbolic, in a way,” she said this morning. “We would be using ourselves as an example. We would then be able to say to other people, ‘We've made this change, and we're adamant that changes have to occur.’”
The cuts to the board could then set the stage for bigger change to come, she said, like reducing the number of elected offices, cutting duplicative services, and even moving into St. Louis County as a municipality.
The bill, however, has a long road ahead of it. It must first be passed by the very board Young is seeking to reduce. Then, as an amendment to the city’s charter, it would have to be approved by 60 percent of voters, not a simple majority. Young is hoping to get the measure onto the November 6 ballot.
But there are also signs that Young could be poised to succeed where others have failed.
First, she isn’t proposing to enact the change this year. Her bill links the move to the 2020 Census. The new wards would be figured in 2021, and wouldn’t go into effect until January 1, 2022, according to the text of the bill.
Moreover, she already has 10 co-sponsors, almost all aldermen from the city’s south side: Stephen Conway, Alfred Wessels, Carol Howard, Jennifer Florida, Donna Baringer, Joseph Roddy, Marlene Davis, Scott Ogilvie, Shane Cohn and Lyda Krewson.
Further, there has been a consistent call for a reduction in the board over the past few years, often from firefighters, police officers and city employees, frustrated with cuts to their budget and pay, and sometimes from citizens watching the city trim costs, or charge for services, such as trash pickup.
Still, similar efforts have historically struggled to get off the ground. And none got the three-fifths majority at the ballot.
Voters rejected a charter change in 1957 that would have reduced the size of the board to 15 – seven members elected citywide, seven from districts and a president elected at large.
Aldermen killed a similar proposal by two Republican board members in 1981. Fred Heitert, one of the Republican aldermen pushing for the reduction, then spearheaded a petition initiative and got the measure on the ballot in 1983. But less than half the voters approved the measure.
And in 2004, city leaders and citizens tried again, this time trying to overhaul several elected offices. Some of the city’s most influential firms and individuals worked on the campaign, which spent millions of dollars.
But again, voters resoundingly rejected the plan, with only about 40 percent approving the four ballot measures needed.