ST. LOUIS — With the Better Together proposal to merge St. Louis and St. Louis County shelved at least temporarily, the city’s own ward reduction plan approved by voters in 2012 is back on political center stage at City Hall.
Some members of the Board of Aldermen on Tuesday sparred over an advisory committee that is supposed to take public input before the board in 2021 redraws the boundary lines and cuts the wards to 14 from 28.
Alderman Heather Navarro, who chairs the yet-to-be-appointed advisory panel, told the aldermanic Legislation Committee that more than 50 people applied and that a 5-member selection group would pick the members.
The advisory panel, she said, would study how the reduction in aldermen and the new larger wards could affect everyday operations such as the delivery of constituent services and the divvying up of capital improvements money. The actual redrawing of the wards will be done by the aldermen.
“We’re making sure that we’re doing our due diligence as elected leaders in this city,” said Navarro, D-28th Ward. She said Alderman Pam Boyd, D-27th Ward, had been serving as co-chair but resigned about a month ago.
Navarro said the selection panel includes Serena Muhammad of the city Violence Prevention Coalition; Todd Swanstrom, a public policy professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis; Michael Evans, a political science professor at Harris-Stowe State College; David Gerth, executive director of Metropolitan Congregations United, and Nicole Hudson, a Washington University official and a former mayoral aide.
But Alderman John Collins-Muhammad, D-21st Ward, a ward reduction opponent who wants the entire issue put back on the ballot for a re-vote next year, complained that the advisory committee process wasn’t representative of the whole city.
Asked by Collins-Muhammad how many of the selection panel members resided in north St. Louis, Navarro said she didn’t know where they lived. She said they were picked because of their expertise on public policy and community organizing.
“It has not been a transparent process,” said Collins-Muhammad, who fears ward reduction would reduce the number and clout of black elected officials.
Another ward reduction foe, Alderman Joe Vaccaro, D-23rd Ward, asked whether Democratic ward committeemen and committeewomen had been consulted regarding the advisory panel. Navarro said they hadn’t because their roles aren’t governmental.
The full board voted last May for Navarro’s resolution to set up the advisory committee. It’s supposed to deliver a report by the end of this month but that won’t happen because it has yet to be formed.
Vaccaro said the full board needs to pass another resolution extending the advisory panel resolution for it to continue. Navarro said it’s unclear now whether that needs to happen or whether the Legislation Committee can extend it. The resolution directs the advisory panel to report its findings to the Legislation Committee.