Alderwoman Megan Ellyia Green announced on Tuesday, December 12 that she plans to run for Board of Alderman president in the March 2019 election. Green seeks to unseat St. Louis’ longtime board president, Lewis Reed.
“I think it’s pretty clear that the board needs new leadership,” said Green, who currently represents the 15th Ward. “The status quo has not been working for everyone in St. Louis for a long time. I have proven over and over that I’m not afraid to stand up to the status quo.”
Green, 34, began representing the South City ward in October 2014 when she won a special election (with Reed’s support). She has since won her seat two more times, earning more than 70 percent of the vote in both elections. She is commonly considered one of the most progressive aldermen on the board. Reed, 55, became the first African American to be elected as board president in 2007.
In the past year, Green has introduced bills that would mandate Community Benefit Agreements (CBAs) on tax-incentive deals, reform drug laws and raise tax revenue for police salary increases using measures that wouldn’t hurt the city’s most vulnerable residents – as sales-tax increases do. She is passionate about police reform, which goes hand-in-hand with good drug policy, she said.
“As someone who worked in the substance abuse arena, I see how we criminalize addiction,” Green said. “I would like to get us to a place where we are not sending people to jail for drug abuse.”
Green sees the board president as someone who brings a clear vision and agenda to the entire board, she said.
“I’ve already been setting the agenda for the Board of Alderman,” she said, by putting forth legislation that pushes the bar.
For the past year, Green and Reed have been going head-to-head on various issues, including establishing CBAs and marijuana reform. Reed introduced a CBA bill on May 5 that would require developers to give back to the communities surrounding their real estate projects – if the developers are seeking tax incentives.
Adding CBAs to development deals was a call that originally came from St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura O. Jones during her campaign for mayor (Reed also was a candidate) and was particularly attractive to progressive voters. Green supported Jones in her campaign.
Green had already had a draft of her CBA bill for five months when Reed introduced his, but she was working to bring community members and city officials together to clarify the language before introducing it. She criticized Reed for not working with the community to draft his legislation. And even further, the aldermen would negotiate the CBA with the developer, not the community, she said. Tom Shepard, Reed’s chief of staff, said Reed didn’t know anything about Green’s bill when he introduced his.
“Then I come forth with legislation on marijuana reform and the president is there to do his own bill that again is not real reform,” Green said. “So we’ve got to have someone at the helm who is willing to push bold leadership, who isn’t interested in just incremental change but who will introduce and really champion things that will take us leaps forward rather than inches forward.”
Regarding the CBA legislation, Shepard said, “President Reed introduced his bill over a month before Alderwoman Green and Green can't hardly consider herself a true proponent of them as she has eliminated the CBA in her own latest tax giveaway on Morganford.”
As for marijuana reform, Shepard said, “President Reed began looking at our city code on marijuana back in February of 2017 during the time Kansas City was going through their initiative process, and the two bills are totally different: President Reed's reduces punishment and Alderwoman Green's would be a complete disaster, particularly for North St. Louis.”
Reed said Green’s campaign announcement came as no surprise and questioned her “progressive” credentials.
“I find it a bit hypocritical that someone whose legislative record has consisted mostly of tax abatement deals for developers, who has recently been reported to the Circuit Attorney’s office for violating state law by making a side deal with a developer, and who has voted in favor of mass eminent domain of a north St. Louis neighborhood is running on the platform that she has chosen,” Reed said in a statement.
“Introducing legislation that is illegal and will never hold up in court is not bold, it’s a waste of time and tax dollars. I'm looking forward to a successful re-election and taking my message of creating a stronger, safer and more unified St. Louis to the voters. Until then, I’ll continue working with people who are more interested in the progress of our city than in masquerades of self-promotion for personal political gain.”
State Senator Jamilah Nasheed said she also plans on running for board president. She will make her announcement in the next few weeks, she said.
“I’ve done some great work in Jefferson City for the past 10 years, but I think I can get more done here in St. Louis,” Nasheed said.
Before becoming an alderwoman, Green had been a nonprofit administrator, working with homeless women. She has also worked in early childhood education, she said.
“I think that the big thing to know about me is that I’m a fighter for the people,” Green said.
And her campaign is going to be fueled by everyday people, she said.
“We’re not going to have the big developers and big corporations behind us,” Green said. “It’s time to have bold leadership at the board who is only accountable to the people.”
Green vs. Reed on pot reform
Green and Reed’s last skirmish over their dueling marijuana reform bills came at an aldermanic committee meeting on December 7. Green said her bill would both decrease opioid and heroin deaths, allow police officers to focus on more serious crimes, and address a racial inequity in law enforcement.
According to the ACLU report studying marijuana arrests in Missouri from 2001-2010, black Missourians are 2.8 times more likely to be arrested on marijuana changes than whites, even though both groups were found to use it at equal rates. St. Louis had the largest disparity of any city in the state.
“If the law cannot be applied justly, what we need to do is change those laws,” Green said.
The bill would allow for the personal possession of two ounces or 10 plants of marijuana for personal use by those 21 years of age or older. It would not legalize drug sales or distribution and would not be allowed in schools, on government property or other properties where the owner has forbidden it.
While police officers could still search someone they suspected of having more than two ounces on them, Green said the change could decrease racial profiling and wasteful spending on minor drug offenses. Missouri spent $49,119,612 enforcing marijuana possession laws in 2010.
Green also pointed to the positive impacts on those who use marijuana for medicinal reasons. She said this demographic could provide an economic boon to St. Louis, especially if the city makes the move before Missouri as a whole or Illinois. It could also reduce the use of addictive painkillers, she said.
“We bear the burden of a disproportionate number of heroin deaths and opioid deaths for the entire state,” Green said.
However, concerns were raised that St. Louis might not have the legal authority to change its law on marijuana without the state’s cooperation and that the bill might draw retaliation from Missouri Governor Eric Greitens and Jefferson City legislators.
“The city is well within its authority to prioritize our resources,” Green said.
It’s not clear, though, whether the state government would agree with that interpretation. Even if St. Louis’ law were changed, marijuana users could still be arrested and prosecuted by state and federal agencies.
Alderman Scott Ogilvie expressed skepticism about the idea that the state government would allow the bill to stand if it were passed. Even if the response was not direct, he said, the city could face reprisals. “Nothing is more en vogue at the state level right now than enacting policies that hurt St. Louis,” he said.
Reed criticized several provisions of Green’s bill, saying changing the city’s marijuana laws while state laws remain the same could be “setting people up for failure,” leading to confusion about where it is and is not legal to use.
He also said the bill was unlikely to eliminate any degree of bias in policing or unnecessary searches, since the language still allows officers to search someone if they have “reasonable suspicion” they possess more than the amount allowed for personal use.
“If you’re African American and you’re wearing a hoodie and baggy pants, the police officers can say, ‘I had reasonable suspicion,’” Reed said.
Reed then questioned Green’s assertion that former Missouri Supreme Court Justice Mike Wolff had helped her write the bill.
“You’re calling me a liar again,” Green said. “Because I’m a woman, right?”
“Stop that,” Reed retorted. “Because I’m an African-American man, right? Is that what this is all about?”
In fact, Judge Wolff did help to write Green’s bill, as he explains in a commentary on stlamerican.com we will publish next week.