St. Louis Board of Aldermen could pass bill to put reversal of ward reduction on April ballot

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen could take a final vote this week to put the reversal of a voter-approved plan to reduce the number of wards in the city back on the ballot in 2019.

Despite a plan to reduce the number of wards in St. Louis from 28 to 14 that was passed by city voters six years ago,  some city aldermen are not so keen on handing their futures to their residents anymore.

In a bill introduced three weeks ago, Alderman John Collins-Muhammad, Ward 21, proposed putting an amendment to the qualified voters of the city of St. Louis to maintain the board as a body of 28 aldermen on the ballot next year.

“The current plan to go to 14 Wards is fiscally irresponsible,” Muhammad said. “There is no real transition plan, there is no strategy, there is no legislation and there is no policy set in place to how we’re going to reduce our wards and our aldermen.”

The board narrowly perfected that measure last Friday by a vote of 15-13. The proposed bill would go on a ballot and before voters on April 2, 2019.

Collins-Muhammad added that the date was chosen by a “working group” of elected officials and community leaders who decided an April ballot date would ensure adequate time to educate voters on the controversial issue.

Alderman Tom Oldenburg, 16th Ward,  said the bill was rushed to get a committee hearing then rushed out of committee. Others questioned the decision to put the proposed amendment on the April ballot.

Alderman Jack Coatar, Ward 7, noted April usually has the lowest voter turnout and moved to amend the date to November of 2018, but it failed.

“If you’re serious about this bill, why don’t you put it on the November ballot where it belongs?” Coatar said. “November is traditionally the highest voter turnout we have, just as it was in 2012.”

The bill will need to be voted on and approved one more time at Friday’s meeting before going to voters. About 60 percent of city voters would have to approve it for it to pass.

After being shot down numerous times in the past, 60 percent of St. Louis voters chose to reduce the number of city aldermen by half in 2012. The current voter-approved plan is not scheduled to take effect until 2022.

With that deadline fast approaching, some officials believe voters should have the chance to reconsider with Muhammad’s proposal, citing concerns that a reduction in aldermen will make them less accessible to their constituents.

Proponents of a reduction say 28 aldermen is no longer necessary since the city’s population has fallen by 130,000 residents over the last three decades. Others say it will make local government more efficient and will cut costs.

Alderwoman Heather Navarro, Ward 28, introduced a resolution that would analyze the pros and cons of reducing the overall size of the city’s governing body last week.

Resolution 12 would “explore the effect of ward reduction and develop recommendations for an equitable and efficient transition from twenty-eight to fourteen wards through the establishment of an advisory committee.”

St. Louis voters have rejected four separate plans to reduce the size of the board since 1957.

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