MACKENZIE • The dateline on this story will disappear soon, if the five women around Dorothy Berry’s dining room table have their way.
They are the trustees of this 12-acre village in south St. Louis County. Berry’s house is City Hall. On a recent night, the last monthly village meeting of 2017 — in what could be the village’s last full year on the map — has come to order.
The meeting is open to the public, and there is a red velvet cake to share at the end of business, but nobody is coming. No one ever comes. Except tonight, when two journalists are on Dorothy Berry’s sofa.
The median age of the five trustees is 82, and nobody else in the village is stepping up to take over. While they are proud of the job they have done running the city, the women are ready to dissolve it and let St. Louis County have it back.
The county has lost municipalities to dioxin poisoning (Times Beach), political rancor (Peerless Park) and outrage over police tactics (St. George). It may never before have lost a city to age and apathy.
The Honorable Patricia Berry, village chairman, is 85. She’s been doing the job for 17 years. She ran unopposed in April’s municipal election, which brought out just 18 voters. Dorothy Berry, her sister, the longest-tenured trustee at 18 years, is 92.
“Mainly, nobody wants to serve,” Pat Berry says. “And after as many years as we’ve put in, we’re just kind of tired of it. I am.”
Her sister adds: “There’s no salary that goes with it. This is all volunteer. And as soon as you mention that to people, you can imagine how people are turned off on that.”
The trustees believe some of their 132 constituents don’t know they live in Mackenzie, one of the county’s 89 municipalities. The village abuts the southwestern edge of the city of St. Louis and is surrounded by the more well-known Affton, the large unincorporated section of south St. Louis County. Although Mackenzie is tiny, two municipalities in St. Louis County have fewer people: Country Life Acres, which has 74, and Champ, which has 13.
The village of tidy brick ranch houses was developed in the 1930s and incorporated in 1946. It was named after Kenneth MacKenzie, a Scotsman who settled in Affton in the 1820s.
No one on the trustee board can remember the last time anyone contested an election, or whether the board ever closed a meeting to the public to discuss a confidential matter. There are no personnel matters, because there are no personnel.
There are snow removal and garbage contracts to manage, a municipal park and street lights to maintain, and a contract with the Shrewsbury Police Department. The annual budget is around $50,000.
The five trustees decided about a year ago that enough was enough. They went door to door, collecting enough signatures to put the disincorporation of Mackenzie on the April ballot. (They needed only 25.)
Although they are eager to shed the responsibility, the trustees share concern that some things will fall by the wayside.
Dorothy Berry leads a discussion on the calls she’s making to help the transition into St. Louis County. She recounts a conversation she had with a member of the county planning department.
“I brought up the park,” she said, referring to Mackenzie’s tiny municipal park. “She said, ‘I do know the parks department does not like to take on these small little parks that are situated throughout the county.’”
That set off alarms among her colleagues — the county had promised to take good care of the park. Letting it slide is “not an option,” Pat Berry says.
Otherwise, the arrangements are set. St. Louis County Police will take over patrols, and the county will take over all other aspects of municipal government.
That’s if voters approve the dissolution. The trustees are concerned that voters won’t even show up to dissolve the town.
“I think they take pride, I think they kind of like the idea of being a part of the village,” said Dorothy Berry. “The fact that everything is taken care of. They see the police go by and the trash is picked up, and everything is taken care of.”
“But they don’t want to do anything,” said Patricia Arrendell, a village trustee, 82.