|St. Louis City Board of Aldermen Size Reduction—2012 Ballot|
This Discussion Guide is part of Community Conversations at FOCUS St. Louis. It is meant to initiate civil discourse around the policies that affect the St. Louis region; to hear each other’s perspective. As is the case with all public policies, this issue is complex and multi-faceted, with many stakeholders. Please keep this in mind as you discuss the Board of Alderman Size Reduction initiative in your community.
St. Louis City Board of Aldermen Size Reduction—2012 Ballot
St. Louis City voters may have the chance to affirm the Board of Alderman’s decision to reduce the number of wards from 28 to 14 and the number of aldermen by the same rate in the November election. On July 6th, the Board passed the bill, which is formally known as the Board of Alderman Amendment Ordinance or Board Bill 31, with a comfortable 21-7 margin. Mayor Francis Slay must sign Board Bill 31 to secure its placement on the November ballot. The ballot language is:
If signed, Board Bill 31 provides a transition schedule for restructuring the smaller Board of Aldermen. The City would be divided into 14 wards with ward boundaries based on the City’s population distribution according to the 2020 census. On December 31, 2021, there would be 28 wards and on January 1, 2022, there would be 14 wards.
St. Louis has lost substantial population since its population peak in the early 1950s. The population was 856,796 in 1950, but by 2010, the population had dwindled to 319,294. In 1950, each alderman represented more than 30,000 residents. Today, the number is about 12,000. The Honorable Phyllis Young, the sponsor and the alderwoman for downtown, Soulard, and Lafayette Square, hopes that it is "the beginning of a series of changes that will make our government a better system for our constituents.” Lana Stein, a retired Professor of Political Science at UM-St. Louis believes the reduction "could demonstrate that sheer numbers of officials do not necessarily provide the best representation. This reform begins to open the door to other possible changes.”
One advantage cited by supports of the Bill is that the reduction in payroll would save the City more than half a million dollars. However, according to Alderman Young, the true value of the Bill is that it affords changes that will make the city more capable of becoming a municipality of the county. The eventual goal is to eliminate duplicated services such as a separate health department for St. Louis City and County. Young reasons that "budgets don’t allow us to continue supporting duplications.”
Opponents of Board Bill 31 argue that creating fewer, but larger wards and reducing the number of aldermen to 14 will make government less democratic. The concern is that aldermen with more constituents will be less responsive to each constituent’s needs and requests, thus stripping citizens of their political voice and influence. Opponents also argue that the cost savings in terms of fewer aldermanic salaries is inflated. With more constituents to serve, aldermen will need additional staffers and assistants who are paid full-time salaries and benefits.
Some observers support the end goal of streamlining the City’s government system, but that the reduction of wards and aldermen is not the most effective way to solving service duplication and budget issues. These individuals argue that this measures of the bill are not a priority concern and do not go far enough to address the real problems plaguing City governance.
Three Possible Perspectives:
Person A is in favor of Board Bill 31, believing that the City of St. Louis has too small of a population for 28 wards and aldermen. The City could benefit financially from fewer aldermanic salaries and eventually, fewer duplicated services and expenditures. The process of making government more rational and efficient has to start somewhere.
Person B does not support the passage of Board Bill 31, believing that creating fewer, but larger wards and reducing the number of aldermen by half makes the constituent-representative relationship more distant and less capable of quickly addressing citizens’ needs, concerns, and demands.
Person C does not view Board Bill 31 as a high priority. The Bill will have little impact on fixing the real problems that are threatening the City of St. Louis’ fiscal and population loss crisis. In the grand scheme of things, this Bill distracts energy and effort from other more effective and efficient solutions.
Links for Further Reading: