The group seeking to merge the governments of St. Louis, St. Louis County and all 88 county municipalities refiled on Monday its statewide ballot initiative to remove a portion that would have made St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger the first mayor of the metro city.
The original language of the ballot initiative said whoever was serving as St. Louis County executive on Jan. 1, 2019, would become the first mayor of the new consolidated government. That language, and the timetable outlined in the measure, would have kept Stenger in office at least through 2024 without having to run in another election.
But under the new wording of the revised initiative, the people serving as St. Louis mayor and the St. Louis County executive on Jan. 1, 2021, will together govern as transition mayors until the winner of a metrowide mayoral election in November 2022 takes office.
Stenger’s term as county executive ends at the end of 2022. St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson’s term ends in April 2021. Better Together’s revised language still effectively cancels the 2021 city election, conceivably giving Krewson nearly two additional years in office without having to face voters.
On Sunday, the Post-Dispatch reported that the U.S. government had subpoenaed Stenger’s texts, emails and other records as part of an investigation into his administration.
Stenger said Monday that he intends to fully cooperate. Also Monday, the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership confirmed that it too had received subpoenas seeking records, and pledged cooperation and transparency.
Better Together, the group leading the push to merge the city and county, said Sunday that proposed changes were not related to any possible legal problems Stenger may be facing.
It maintained that position Monday.
“Over the last two months, we have received strong feedback at stakeholder meetings, public town halls, and on social media regarding the decision to hold the election for metro mayor in November 2024,” Ed Rhode, a spokesman for the organization’s campaign, Unite STL, said in a statement. “We listened and we have heard those concerns. Today, Unite STL is changing the amendment to hold the election for metro mayor in November 2022. Obviously, this is not a decision you make rashly or quickly. Rather, we have come to believe over time that the concerns expressed were reasonable, well-taken and needed to be addressed.”
The Rev. Starsky Wilson, president and chief executive officer of the Deaconess Foundation and a former co-director of the Ferguson Commission, said Monday that if the change did indeed come as the result of community feedback, then it’s confirmation that it’s better that a conversation be had before the initiative is pushed to the ballot box so changes can be made.
“The change doesn’t remove the reality that city voters are being disenfranchised,” he said.
This marks the second time that Better Together has modified its statewide petition in its effort to merge area governments. Last month, Unite STL resubmitted a petition and state constitutional amendment language to the Missouri secretary of state, after pulling the measure.
Those changes were intended to clarify technical and legal language. One said the merged government can’t seize municipalities’ bank accounts, another clarified that the new “municipal districts,” which would replace St. Louis County municipalities, could still borrow money for some purposes, such as building parks. Another said St. Louis still must pay its debts, even if the city earnings tax slowly disappears.
Better Together said in January that it plans to gather at least 160,199 signatures and place on the November 2020 statewide ballot a measure to consolidate local governments, effectively rejoining the city and the county and reversing a divorce that took place in 1876.
The initiative, if passed by Missouri voters, would combine under one metro city the police departments, court systems, roads, regional planning and zoning, and economic development arms of the city, county and the 88 county municipalities.
The so-called “municipal districts” would retain power over some services, including parks and trash collection, but with otherwise restricted authority.