The St. Louis Board of Aldermen on Friday perfected a bill that would reverse a voter-approved plan to reduce the number of wards in the city.
Despite a plan to reduce the number of wards in St. Louis from 28 to 14 that was passed by city voter six years ago, some city aldermen are not so keen on handing their futures to their residents anymore.
In a new bill introduced two 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.
“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 by a vote of 15-13, but not before amending the date in which the proposed bill would go on a ballot and before voters on April 2, 2019. After a lengthy discussion, the amendment was passed by a vote of 15-13.
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 is usually lowest voter turnout and moved to amend the date to November of 2018.
“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.”
Coatar’s amendment failed by a vote of 13-15, but not before pointing out that voters approved the reduction of the board size once before and that the board should stand by that result.
The bill will need to be voted on and approved one more time before going to voters.
After being shot down numerous times in the past, about 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 Board Bill 25, 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.
St. Louis voters have rejected four separate plans to reduce the size of the board since 1957.