Lacy Clay

Seven years ago, I was asked to testify before the Advance St. Louis charter reform taskforce. 

That well-meaning, but short-sighted effort produced four amendments to the City of St. Louis' charter, each of which was then soundly rejected by the voters.

I am convinced that the defeat of that reform effort lies in its failure to address the larger, more critical and still unresolved issues which continue to waste millions of tax dollars each year, while depriving citizens of accountability and local control of key government functions.

In 2004, I suggested three transformative ideas that would have streamlined government services, saved millions of tax dollars, restored local control over police and election boards, and promoted a more unified community.

It was clear then, and it is even more obvious today, that the City of St. Louis should re-enter St. Louis County as the largest independent municipality.

Let me be clear: I am not suggesting a city-county merger.

What I am advocating is finally addressing the entrenched, duplicated power structures, inefficient government practices, inadequate public services in many areas and a long, sad history of racial disparities.

I am a homeowner, a taxpayer and the father of two young children who are growing up here. So the stakes for me are very personal.

And as a federal elected official who represents large portions of both the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County in Congress, I have a unique perspective on how to move our community forward.

The City of St. Louis continues to be the vital heart of the St. Louis region, and no patient can be truly healthy without a strong, stable heart. But as I pointed out in 2004, the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County share a common destiny. We face many of the same challenges and could potentially share many of the same solutions - to our mutual benefit.

For instance: Both government entities have separate economic development operations, separate courts and corrections systems, separate parks and street repair and separate health departments.

Why?

Jobs, potholes, criminals and uninsured sick people flow back and forth without stopping at Skinker Boulevard. This is a community reality that we can no longer afford to ignore.

As a region, we are failing to create enough new jobs, while our revenue base continues to erode. Even worse, we are falling behind in the competition to attract talented young people who want to build a future in a vibrant community.

In the City of St. Louis, one-third of the budget goes to public safety, and yet control of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department is in Jefferson City. That bizarre arrangement is a relic of the Civil War. It is time to bury it by establishing local control and real accountability.

Another glaring example of state-city reform that is long overdue is establishing local control over the St. Louis City and St. Louis County Election Boards.

You might recall the fiasco of the November 2000 general election when a huge number of eligible voters were turned away from city polling places by an election board that was incompetent, unaccountable to the voters and beyond any local scrutiny.

In 2008, large numbers of voters in North St. Louis County waited in line for hours to cast their ballots because the election board failed to provide enough voting machines and election judges.

Today, we are still unable to ensure the voting rights of every citizen in both the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County. We need to establish local control over the composition and operation of both election boards without delay.

The time has come to open our eyes and take a good hard look in the regional mirror. This is not a time for timid leaders or weak ideas. It is a time for courage.

People always resist change, because they fear it. But the ultimate challenge for both the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County is to have the courage and vision to help our community overcome that fear and act boldly to shape the better future that we all want, and our children deserve.

 

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