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Board approves motion for police body cameras

Board of Alderman President Lewis Reed asks the E&A board to approve a one-year contract, department-wide deployment of police body cameras on Wednesday, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017. Photo by Laurie Skrivan, lskrivan@post-dispatch.com

When it comes to paying personal property taxes, I stand with Lewis Reed. Or Louis Reed. Whatever his name is.

The discrepancy in how the president of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen spells his name came to the forefront last week after the Post-Dispatch’s Doug Moore reported that Reed was taking issue with the name used by one of his opponents, Sen. Jamilah Nasheed. On some city records, Nasheed goes by her former name, Jenice Williams. She legally changed it years ago. In return, Nasheed’s campaign came up with an old yearbook photo of Reed with his first name spelled differently.

Such it is in city politics, where petty isn’t a strategy, it’s often the name of the game.

Reed and Nasheed are running for the president of the Board of Aldermen. So is Alderman Megan Ellyia Green. The race is important as the position is very likely to have a significant effect on the process by which St. Louis does or does not privatize its airport.

Green is against it. Nasheed was on the fence but recently decided she, too, is opposed.

Reed isn’t sure.

This is not unusual for the man who has held his elected position for three terms. He is often for things, before he’s against them, before he’s for them again. The renovations to the Enterprise Center come to mind, and the Biddle House homeless shelter. In each case, as he often does, Reed took multiple positions.

Such it is with his taxes.

Until recently, he was behind on paying them. This, too, was brought to light by one of his political opponents. Frankly, I think most people will cut Reed a little slack, here.

I’m always behind on my personal property taxes. Like most Missourians, I wish they didn’t exist. This is the first state I’ve ever lived where after paying taxes when you buy a vehicle or boat or trailer or motorcycle, you have to pay taxes again each year just for owning the property.

Each year I get the notice of the amount due.

Each year it sits in a pile as I fume over having to pay it.

Sometimes I play a little game: If I get a refund on my state taxes, I use it to pay the personal property taxes. Of course, it means I often owe a fine for being late.

So be it. Call it my own little personal tax protest.

Unlike Reed, though, I’m not an elected official. I don’t get kicked off a ballot if I don’t pay my taxes on time. So it boggles the mind a bit that the man who holds so much sway over how St. Louisans’ taxes are spent has such a hard time paying his own.

Twice during the time he’s been president of the board, the city he helps lead has sued him for failing to pay personal property taxes. And then, this year, he fell behind again.

Perhaps more importantly, however, Reed and his chief aide, Tom Shepard, seem to have difficulty explaining the situation. When the Post-Dispatch asked about the back taxes earlier this month, this is what Shepard said:

“He doesn’t have any personal property taxes due. He doesn’t have an outstanding property tax bill.”

It wasn’t true.

And, that, too, seems to be a pattern with Team Reed, that, frankly, is much more concerning than his disdain for personal property taxes.

Recently, Reed was asked about a past-due fine for a violation of campaign ethics law. In 2018 he signed an agreement with the Missouri Ethics Commission to pay a fine of $1,095 for errors in his campaign record keeping in his unsuccessful run for mayor in 2017. (The fine jumps to more than $10,000 if Reed commits further ethics violations in a two-year period).

“We have paid the $1,000 fine,” Reed’s campaign told the Post-Dispatch Dec. 31.

But nearly a month later, the fine hadn’t been paid.

Why not just tell the truth?

It’s easier. Here, I’ll show you how: My name is Tony Messenger and I haven’t paid my personal property taxes yet. Check that. My real name is Anthony. The taxes will likely be paid about an hour or two after my wife reads this column. Maybe.

If I were a city voter trying to decide between Reed, Nasheed and Green, I wouldn’t care much about the taxes, or the names, or the back-and-forth complaints. But the words of Albert Einstein might come to mind:

“Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted in important affairs.”

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