The process has begun to carry out the voter mandate of ward reduction in St. Louis, which will bring the number of aldermanic wards from 28 to 14 by 2023. Try as some activists and politicians have to derail this plan, the law’s the law. To ensure the process unfolds smoothly, preparations can no longer be delayed.
On Tuesday, the Board of Aldermen will hold a public hearing on how the process will unfold. Given the ongoing confusion about what ward reduction means and how it’ll happen, citizens who have strong feelings on the matter owe it to themselves to attend the 1 p.m. meeting. But would-be participants should be forewarned: It’s not a forum to redebate the decision made by voters in 2012 to cut the number of aldermanic seats in half.
“We’ve already amended the city charter, whether people agree with it or not,” says 28th Ward Alderman Heather Navarro, who sponsored a board-approved resolution last year to establish an 11-member Ward Reduction Advisory Committee.
Alderman John Collins-Muhammad tried last year to advance a bill calling for a citywide revote on ward reduction, but it died in committee. He has since reintroduced his bill, and Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed, who employed Collins-Muhammad on his re-election campaign, has assigned it to be heard in a committee where it might get a more favorable reception.
The full Board of Aldermen must recognize the unacceptability of that effort. Either voters know what they’re doing at the polls, including when they voted to put those aldermen in office, or they don’t, in which case the entire election process should be called into question. State legislators wisely reconsidered their bid to revote the “Clean Missouri” election-reform amendment approved statewide by Missourians in November. Once voters have had their say, the decision must be respected.
There’s no more time to waste in preparing for ward reduction. The process was delayed in part because of Collins-Muhammad’s efforts to organize a revote but also because the entire future of the Board of Aldermen was in question as the Better Together city-county merger plan moved forward. That plan would have absorbed St. Louis into a larger metropolitan city represented by a 33-member council.
A larger council might have been justified to provide representation to a merged city of 1.3 million, but a 28-member board no longer makes sense for St. Louis city now that its population has dwindled to 319,000.
The process that launches on Tuesday will be citizens’ first opportunity to provide input on the representation issues they deem most crucial in designing a more efficient, smaller board. Advisory committee positions won’t necessarily be filled by supporters of ward reduction. But it serves no purpose to try to use this committee to advance an opposition agenda whose ship has already sailed.