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Better Together reveals plan to merge city, county

FILE PHOTO: Washington University Chancellor Mark Wrighton and his wife Risa Zwerling Wrighton hear him introduced as leading Better Together as task force members Arindam Kar and Will Ross, and St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson listen at an unveiling event where the group's plan to merge the city and county was revealed at the Cheshire hotel on Monday, Jan. 28, 2019. Photo by Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com

Washington University is forming a faculty group to consider the Better Together city-county merger proposal.

Chancellor-elect Andrew D. Martin asked Provost Holden Thorp to chair the group, the university said. Martin tasked Thorp with considering the proposal “from various perspectives and areas of expertise.” The group will release a report with its findings.

The meetings will not initially be open to the public, said university spokeswoman Julie Hail Flory. But the university said the group will “offer opportunities for the campus community to engage in dialogue.”

“One of the key roles of a university is to engage in scholarly conversations about matters of community significance,” Thorp said in a statement. “With our exceptional faculty expertise, we aim to serve as a neutral entity to host a conversation about the future of the region.”

The announcement was met with some skepticism. Chancellor Mark Wrighton has committed to chairing Better Together’s campaign committee. He will retire from Washington University in June.

“I think it’s legitimate to question if this is going to be an open and honest discussion,” said Virvus Jones, a former city comptroller who sits on the editorial board at the St. Louis American newspaper and has been an open critic of Better Together’s plan. “I know some of the professors there and I respect them. But I don’t know how they would be considered an honest broker in this.”

Washington University has not taken a position on Better Together, the university said.

The university named seven to the committee, including Thorp: Andrew Butler, associate professor of education; Adrienne Davis, vice provost and the William M. Van Cleve Professor of Law; Steven Fazzari, the Bert A. and Jeannette L. Lynch Distinguished Professor of Economics; Timothy McBride, the Bernard Becker Professor of Public Health; Jason Purnell, associate professor of public health; and Karen Tokarz, the Charles Nagel Professor of Public Interest Law & Public Service

The university said the group is forming a plan for its work and will have more information this fall.

David Hunn is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.