Aldermen Make Final Case for Their Own Reduction

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*Prop R was passed by voters in the City of St. Louis! The measure needed 77,150 of 128,583 votes cast (60%) and received 79,071, or 61.49%.

Tomorrow, voters in the City of St. Louis will have the opportunity to pass the first significant political reform in nearly a century. Prop R calls for a reduction in the size of the Board of Aldermen from 29 to 15, reducing the number of wards by half (28 to 14). nextSTL has enumerated the benefits of creating a more functional elected body (Yes on Prop R: Why Passing Politcal Reform is Important to the Future of St. Louis). As if to highlight the stakes, the board itself has just made the case for its own reform.

Back on October 26, something interesting happened. As the Post-Dispatch described it, "an unusual thing happened Friday at City Hall: The Board of Aldermen put the brakes on a big-dollar development deal." There were six votes in favor, eight opposed and 15 members were not present (roll call can be found below). So who among the aldermen were responsible the bill's defeat? The 21st ward's Antonio French and 24th's Scott Ogilvie led desperately needed questioning. Those absent play a part in preventing the bill from passing as well.

But here's the trick: any alderman voting "no" can revive a bill at a later date. This bill was defeated due to the outsized influence of Alderman Freeman Bosley Sr. of the 3rd Ward, where part of the NorthSide development area is located. What was his complaint? That the larger NorthSide project faces a huge hurdle in the state Supreme Court later this month that could force repayment of nearly $30M in already delivered tax credits? That after years, virtually nothing has been built or developed across the 1,500 acre, 2,000+ parcel project? Nope. Bosley whined and kicked his feet because, according to the PD, "no one has ever sat down with me and said what they were trying to do."

Now NorthSide has been around for close to a decade. For better or worse, there's little new happening here. It's impossible that Bosley has not been updated periodically regarding the project. No, his feigned concern about the new bill to give $1.4M to NorthSide as a credit toward the past purchase of the Bottle District site, was a demand that the developer bow at his 3rd Ward alter. This is ridiculous for more than one reason. The alderman for 1/28 of the city can torpedo a board bill. A developer isn't forced to justify a project to the city, but to 1/28 of the city's elected board.

So Bosley is now on board, brought the bill back, 15 aldermen voted to revive it and it passed 26-3. From the PD post-mortem, he stated, "I had an opportunity to speak with the developers. I am satisfied that the people in my ward are going to have an opportunity to find out what is going on with this project." Got that? So of the seven others who stalled the bill the previous week, four simply tilted with the Bosley winds. Those four were Moore, Triplett, Boyd and Krewson. And the 15 who were missing in round one? All 15 supported the bill after Bosley's ego had been stroked. Aldermanic courtesy.

This isn't how a city should be built. This isn't what developers should be forced to do to work in the city, regardless of the merits of the particular project. In fact, the unknown greatest harm is likely those projects that never gain a public hearing due to lack of aldermanic support. They city's abdication of planning to an aldermanic pollice verso 28 times over has been and will continue to be a recipe for fragmentation and failure.

October 26 vote to delay Bottle District/NorthSide bill:
Nays: Bosley, Moore, Triplett, French, Boyd, Vaccaro, Ogilvie, Krewson
Ayes: Hubbard, Ortmann, Arnowitz, Wessels, Howard, Baringer
Present: Troupe, Vollmer, Kennedy, Schmid, Cohn, Williamson, Carter
(all others absent)

November 2 vote to approve Bottle District/NorthSide bill:
Nays: French, Villa, Ogilvie
Ayes: Hubbard, Ortmann, Arnowitz, Wessels, Howard, Baringer, Troupe, Vollmer, Kennedy, Schmid, Cohn, Williamson, Carter, Flowers, Moore, Triplett, Young, Conway, Vaccaro, Arnowitz, Florida, Roddy, Davis, Schmid, Krewson, Reed

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STL residents per rep with 14 aldermen
{residents per representative if St. Louis were to have 14 aldermen}

City of St. Louis Board of Aldermen representation
{current residents per representative – 28 aldermen in St. Louis}

representation by aldermen
{number of aldermen if St. Louis employed the resident to representative of the cities shown}

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  • While I’m generally in favor of this prop, aldermanic courtesy isn’t necessarily the evil that some make it out to be. When an issue primarily affects only one ward, the courtesy makes sense. But when it affects a larger swath or the entire city, the courtesy doesn’t really occur in the first place. The root problem typically involves ethics, which will be an issue no matter the size of the aldermanic body. My thought is that decreasing the board may increase the quality of its composition.

  • Danny

    I’m in support of Prop R to reduce the Board, but at the same time, I don’t believe simply reducing the number of Aldermen will end the practice of aldermanic courtesy. Maybe if members were elected at-large, but I’m not sure that would ever go over in this city or that it would even be a good idea.

    • Alex Ihnen

      You’re right. This won’t end aldermanic courtesy, but we cannot hope for greater reform if we’re not able to take a first step. Say Yes to Prop R!

  • j84ustin

    THIS is the reason reform is needed. I think framing the argument as “we have too many alderman serving too few residents” is not convincing. THIS is a convincing argument.

  • April

    just an FYI – the alderman of the 24th ward is Scott Ogilvie (not Scott Ward) and there are currently 28 wards, not 29.

    • Alex Ihnen

      Thanks for typo catch. The Board of Aldermen has 29 members, including the president of the board. There are, of course, 28 wards.