Better Together, the advocacy group whose plan to consolidate St. Louis city and St. Louis County has roiled the region, has — at least temporarily — withdrawn its statewide petition to merge area governments.
Chris Pieper, an attorney for Better Together, sent a letter on Friday to the Missouri secretary of state withdrawing the petition on behalf of the advocacy group’s campaign, Unite STL.
Pieper said that the organization had been working on changes since it filed the petition last week and that all of the changes were technical, clarifying wording but not changing the substance of the plan.
“It’s where we are in the process,” Pieper said. “It frequently happens. I don’t think it is a setback.”
Pieper said the petition would be refiled on Monday.
But the withdrawal also represents a crack in the Better Together veneer, critics said: Either the plan wasn’t as polished as the organization had hoped, or hasn’t received the support it expected.
“They must have some major concerns with it, if they withdrew it at this point,” said Pat Kelly, executive director of the Municipal League of Metro St. Louis, which has resolutely opposed the initiative. “I really just don’t think they have as much support as they think they do, as they were anticipating.”
Others suggested the pause might provide an opportunity for the community to provide input.
“I hope they withdraw for longer than Monday,” said St. Louis Alderman Megan Green, a candidate for aldermanic board president who asked Better Together this week to delay its proposal and gather more public feedback. “There is a merger proposal that a lot of people in the region can get behind. This is not it.”
Municipal League volunteers and elected officials have begun gathering voter signatures to land a competing proposal on St. Louis County and city ballots, with the hope of finishing collecting names by the middle of April.
Maura Browning, a representative of the Missouri secretary of state, said Better Together contacted the state on Friday afternoon to withdraw the petition.
Better Together representatives said changes to the petition would clarify financing obligations, elected office vacancies, taxing authority of the municipal districts, and pension and personnel provisions.
Better Together announced its plan last week to gather at least 160,199 signatures and place on the November 2020 statewide ballot a measure to create a new government for St. Louis and St. Louis County.
The initiative, if passed by voters, would combine under one metro city the police departments, court systems, roadways, regional planning and zoning, and economic development arms of the city, county and the 88 county municipalities. County municipalities could continue to exist, but with severely restricted authority.
On Wednesday, the region’s two most prominent business organizations, Civic Progress and the St. Louis Regional Chamber, committed the business community’s “time, energy and resources” to the effort.
Meanwhile, Better Together also announced on Friday four public forums, at which 150 area residents at a time can learn more about the organization’s plan. The forums are set for:
- 6 p.m. March 6 at Greater St. Mark Family Church, 9950 Glen Owen Drive, in North County.
- 6 p.m. March 14 at Carpenter’s Hall, 1401 Hampton Avenue, in St. Louis.
- 6 p.m. March 20 at The Lodge Des Peres, 1050 Des Peres Road, in Des Peres.
- 6 p.m. March 27 at Genesis Banquet Center, 2651 Telegraph Road, in South County.
The meetings are limited to 150 people and require RSVPs.