ST. LOUIS — Mayor Lyda Krewson on Thursday made a personal appeal to aldermen to ask voters to repeal the residency requirement for most city workers, saying it would help deal with a shortage of police officers and other employees.
“Expanding the pool of applicants is not the cure-all but it does remove one barrier to hiring,” the mayor said in a state-of-the-city address to the Board of Aldermen.
Krewson said that the city made “significant progress” in fighting crime but that filling around 130 police vacancies is an important part of the effort that has been hampered by the residency rule.
She said the shortage has been around that number the past three or four years despite an increase in pay for officers and other steps.
She said crime in the city decreased by 6% last year and violent crime was down 15% but “if you’re a victim of crime, one crime is one crime too many and those stats do not matter.”
“Public safety remains job one and job two and job three,” she said.
She also cited her budget request for more money for demolition of derelict, vacant buildings and the city’s affordable housing program.
Krewson also recounted about $8 billion in new development across the city, from the rebuilt Gateway Arch museum to the new Union Station aquarium under construction to various neighborhood residential projects.
She said the city issued $1.2 billion in construction permits last year, almost double the total the year before. “There are cranes in the sky and construction dumpsters on the curb,” she said.
She also commented on the recent withdrawal of the Better Together plan to combine the city and St. Louis County. She said research done by the organization had illustrated the problems that fragmented government poses for the region.
“This actually represents a new opportunity to come together to listen and to hear one another more and to develop a new path forward to achieve better outcomes for our constituents, our residents and our businesses,” she said.
Asked by reporters after the talk whether she now favored turning over the issue to a regional Board of Freeholders being promoted by county municipal leaders, she said “I think that’s premature.”
“We need to listen more and listen first before we just say exactly what we’re going to do next from the top down,” she said.
Aldermen last week passed a resolution inviting Krewson to deliver the speech, reviving an annual tradition dropped over the past decade or so. “I said, ‘Of course, I’ll come to the next meeting,’” she said.
Krewson, 66, is halfway through her first term as mayor.
The resolution was sponsored by Alderman John Collins-Muhammad, D-21st Ward, who in February had announced with another alderman a petition drive to put a recall of Krewson before voters.
That was to protest the mayor’s support for the Better Together plan, which the two said would result in a sharp reduction in black political influence and representation.
Collins-Muhammad on Thursday had a mixed reaction to the mayor’s remarks. He said he liked her comments about getting rid of vacant buildings but that she didn’t adequately explain the city-county relationship and failed to talk about his push for a repeat election on ward reduction, which voters approved in 2012.
Asked about his previous call to oust the mayor, Collins-Muhammad said only that “I’m not focused on the recall” and said he’ll work with anyone on city redevelopment.
Aldermen held their weekly meeting a day early to allow for a long Memorial Day weekend.