St. Louis aldermen are standing against Mayor Lyda Krewson’s move to advocate in Jefferson City to override the City Charter’s residency requirement for city employees. Some aldermen argue that the city’s unemployment rate for African Americans is high — and the city has about 1,000 vacant jobs to fill.
“We have people that need jobs,” said Alderwoman Annie Rice (D-Ward 8) in a statement on January 28. “We should do everything in our power to see to it that we use these positions and the training capacity of SLATE to fill these positions with people already in the city.”
Krewson has been fervently supporting a Missouri House bill that would end the requirement that police officers live in the City of St. Louis for seven years. That bill was recently expanded to remove the residency requirement for all city employees.
On Friday, January 31, the Board of Aldermen passed a resolution stating that the board does not support the mayor going to the state Legislature in attempt to render the Board of Aldermen powerless and to push through her agenda.
Krewson pushed back against the criticism of her support of removing the residency requirement.
“The Board of Aldermen had multiple opportunities, and still do, to allow the public to have a vote on the matter,” said Jacob Long, Krewson’s spokesman. “They denied the public that opportunity. Mayor Krewson is supportive of state legislation to remove the residency requirements that began at the state level by the attorney general, and not this office.”
The City of St. Louis has a 3.5 percent unemployment rate, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, the rate for the city’s black population likely mirrors the national rate of 5.9 percent.
Rice is calling on Krewson to direct the St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment (SLATE) and the city’s Personnel Department to “jointly undertake an initiative” to fill all currently vacant city positions with current residents, she said in a statement.
“These are both city agencies,” Rice said. “One has almost 1,000 vacant jobs to fill counting the seasonal jobs that will soon be open, and SLATE is the city’s own training department. The mayor should connect the dots and fill these open positions with (city residents) who could be trained with precisely the required skills.”
Long said that the two city departments “regularly” work together to fill open positions, but some rules set forth in the City Charter and by the Civil Service Commission create barriers.
SLATE’s Executive Director Howard Hayes explained that it is a grant-driven agency, and because of this, the majority of its clients must meet very specific eligibility requirements.
“To adhere to the performance measures of our grants, the agency primarily serves as a bridge to prosperity for populations that have historically been underserved,” Hayes said. “Although we consider many of our clients to be future city employees, often they are in need of completing high school or state equivalency degree programs.”
The office also works with justice-involved youth who are in need of a second chance, Hayes said, and need help to remove employment barriers.
SLATE has partnered with the Department of Personnel to recruit employees for the Forestry Department at recruitment fairs across the city, Hayes said. It also has provided vouchers to customers to pay for background checks for city jobs.
Alice Prince, who served as SLATE’s executive director before Hayes, said she thinks Rice’s statement is “spot on.”
“City government has to break down silos, build capacity and help the community,” Prince said. “Although the unemployment rate is low, it is not low for people of color. Add in the impact of incarceration, and there is chronic unemployment and poverty in the city. It is important to be intentional, aggressive, and impactful.”
Prince said when she was the executive director, the department had a more hands-on approach in helping people fill out city applications. She also opened an office in the city courts and the Circuit Attorney’s Office and held longer hours.
“I believe the alderwoman is correct,” Prince said. “I know the two departments working together will be better for our community.”
Rice said that many of the open jobs are entry-level positions, which offer limited pay – about $32,000 per year. But the full-time positions come with health insurance, paid vacation, paid holidays, a retirement program and other benefits.
“These are life-changing jobs for unemployed and untrained workers in the city,” Rice said. “Let’s meet these intersecting needs and show our residents we believe in them.”
Long confirmed that there are about 680 vacancies, and 300 more that will be seasonal work. He noted that about 130 of the vacancies are for police officers. Krewson believes that allowing officers to live where they want will help with recruitment for police.
“The city offered 50 residency waivers for police last year — that resulted in one hire,” said Alderwoman Cara Spencer (D-Ward 20) and Krewson’s mayoral opponent. “Residency is clearly not the only issue we have when it comes to hiring.”