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St. Louis City Hall

The exterior of the St. Louis City Hall as seen on Tuesday, May 28, 2013. Photo By David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

ST. LOUIS — A measure to put repealing the city employee residency rule before voters won preliminary approval Wednesday from the Board of Aldermen after lengthy debate.

The proposed city charter amendment, endorsed on a narrow 15-12 vote, must be voted on again by aldermen to qualify for the November 2020 ballot.

The decades-old residency rule, which requires most city workers to live in St. Louis, has been cited as a reason the city police department and some other agencies have struggled to fill positions.

The measure was among a string of bills taken up in a marathon board session lasting about six hours, as aldermen pushed to get legislation in position for passage before the board’s summer break begins after its next meeting July 12.

However, one bill didn’t advance Wednesday — a tighter curfew law for children under age 17, which was defeated on a 12-12 vote. Backers plan to bring it up again, however.

Regarding the residency rule repeal, aldermanic supporters said the measure is needed to widen the pool of applicants for police and other vacancies, echoing previous statements from Mayor Lyda Krewson and Police Chief John Hayden.

“We should try to find the right person for the right job,” said Alderman Tom Oldenburg, D-16th Ward. “What is at stake here is how do we attract qualified candidates.”

Opponents said they worried that the measure also could result in more and more current city employees moving to the suburbs.

That, they warned, could result in a decline in city sales tax revenue because people tend to patronize stores and restaurants near where they live.

“We should be trying to figure out how to stabilize our population,” said Alderman John Collins-Muhammad, D-21st Ward.

Losing city employees could especially hurt some of the city’s poorer neighborhoods, they added, and hinder efforts to draw new business development to those areas.

“When we lose our people, that’s the most valuable thing we have,” said Alderman Sharon Tyus, D-1st Ward.

But Oldenburg and another supporter of the bill, Joe Vaccaro, D-23rd Ward, predicted that there wouldn’t be a mass exodus to the suburbs.

Vaccaro said, for example, that two of his children could have taken advantage of an exception to the residency rule won in 2005 by police employees with seven years’ city service but have remained city residents.

Firefighters with seven years’ service won the same authority in 2010 but their exception is set to expire in 2022. A state law allowed them to move outside the city as long as city schools weren’t fully accredited or for five years after the district regained accreditation, which it did in 2017.

Hayden and City Personnel Director Rick Frank say the police seven-year rule applies only to officers hired before the city gained control of the department in 2013. Others disagree.

Some critics of repeal on Wednesday also said the city could do a better job of trying to get city residents to apply.

The defeated curfew bill would require kids to be home by 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 9:30 other nights. The curfew now begins just before midnight Fridays and Saturdays and at 11 p.m. the rest of the week.

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The bill also increases potential penalties for parents of children found to be violating the curfew more than once over a year.

The sponsor, Brandon Bosley, D-3rd Ward, said it would give police another tool to deal with kids they come across late at night. It’s also aimed at keeping kids safe, he and other supporters said.

But opponents such as Megan Green, D-15th Ward, said they worried that the bill could result in more young kids being put into the criminal justice system and could unfairly hurt some low-income parents working multiple jobs.

Some measures winning first-round board approval Wednesday would:

• Authorize a new Criminal Justice Coordinating Council aimed at improving communication and cooperation among circuit court judges, police, corrections agencies and other offices. The council already has begun meeting on a volunteer basis.

• Give up to $4 million in tax incentives for Build-A-Bear Workshop to move its headquarters and about 200 jobs to a building on South 18th Street from Overland.

The measure sets aside up to half of city earnings tax and payroll taxes from Build-A-Bear employees to fund improvements to the building. Aldermen last week passed another part of the incentive package, a property tax break.

• Allow a $48 million plan, largely funded by the federal government, to revamp highway ramps and streets around Highway 40 (Interstate 64) at Jefferson Avenue..

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