Open Letter to East-West Gateway Executive Director Selection Committee

The East-West Gateway Council of Governments is in the process of selecting a new Executive Director. EWG is our region’s Metropolitan Planning Organization serving seven counties and a city not within a county. The Executive Committee, consisting of the heads of the seven counties and the city not within a county, will select the new ED.

MEMORANDUM

TO:
Mark Kern, St. Clair County, EWG Board Chair
Alan Dunstan, Madison County
Francis Slay, City of St. Louis
Ken Waller, Jefferson County
Steve Ehlmann, St. Charles County
Terry Liefer, Monroe County
John Griesheimer, Franklin County
Steve Stenger, St. Louis County

FROM:
Ralph Pfremmer, Trailnet
Alex Ihnen, nextSTL.com

RE: East-West Gateway executive director search

We write as organizations and opinion leaders with expertise in business development, urban planning and transportation. We are also partners and observers of East-West Gateway’s important work.

We understand a firm has recently been chosen to conduct a nationwide search for the top staff post of East-West Gateway’s executive director. Our purpose in writing is to express ideas that are relevant to your upcoming executive search process.

St. Louis is at a critical juncture. After decades of slow economic and population growth, and the tough challenges and deep divisions we face brought to the forefront last August, we need a change of course. This is an important opportunity to hire an outstanding leader, collaborator, and expert to guide us in utilizing our assets to become a more prosperous region. We strongly believe the right candidate should possess the following expertise:

• Demonstrated use of MPO best practices;
• Demonstrated commitment to collaboration and meaningful community engagement;
• In-depth understanding of 21st century transportation and economic development challenges and opportunities;
• Ability to create impactful and realistic regional initiatives; and
• Leadership capabilities to engage and direct staff in fulfilling objectives and strategies identified in the OneSTL plan.

In order to vet the expertise of candidates, we ask you to consider incorporating the following questions into the interview process:

1) In 2013 East-West Gateway completed its Regional Plan for Sustainability, OneSTL. The plan was a $4.7 million investment by the Federal Government, and countless hours from partners. To increase sustainability in the region, and make the most of this investment, how will you guide the agency to win funds and foster collaboration to implement the plan?

2) In the 21st Century, we have seen a dramatic change in demand for land use and transportation options, as the Millennial generation looks for more urban housing with multiple transportation choices, and the retiring Baby Boomer generation is looking to downsize to more compact housing where walking and transit are convenient. How would you lead EWG to make St. Louis a strong regional and global competitor as the market demands transportation choices and walkable communities?

3) The latest Long Range Plan does not prioritize funding for any major transit, bicycle, or pedestrian projects over the next 30 years. Meanwhile, our peer regions, including Kansas City and Nashville, are updating their transportation system for the 21st Century by prioritizing transit and setting aside funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects. As Executive Director of EWG, what changes would you make to compete with our peers?

4) Since 1950, the region’s population has grown by 50% while the land use has grown by 400%. Now we are struggling to pay for the maintenance on all of the roads, parking lots, and sewers that serve our spread out population- we’ve rendered ourselves house-poor. How would you lead EWG to address the challenges of our stagnating population and growing maintenance bills due to aging infrastructure? What could EWG do to encourage more economically productive land uses?

5) Historically, central cities have been dependent upon the rural areas surrounding them for food and raw materials, while the rural areas have been dependent upon the central cities as a market for their goods. Infrastructure investment and policy choices over the past 60 years have undermined already built places in favor of more spread out newer ones. How would you encourage discussion, collaboration, and understanding between the diverse interests of our region? How will you lead our region to ensure we have a strong, competitive central core?

6) Due to the high number of pedestrian fatalities and serious injuries, Missouri and Illinois are both on the Federal Highway Administration’s watch list, Focus Cities/States of Concern. Connected2045, the latest EWG long-range transportation plan, reports deaths and injuries in crashes cost the region $3.2 billion in 2013. What approaches could EWG take to influence and improve safety on the streets and highways of our region?

7) It is a fair assumption that federal, Missouri, and Illinois infrastructure funding levels will be limited for the foreseeable future. More than ever, high returns on our investments are critical. Small multi-modal improvements in neighborhoods are often the highest returning investments we can make. How would you approach the identification of projects large and small that create the highest return on investment for the EWG region?

8) Best practices for community engagement include involving residents from the beginning of any project and integrating engagement into existing community-hosted meetings, instead of holding new meetings. Please describe your experience implementing these community engagement best practices, and any others.

We offer these comments and ideas because regional progress requires that East-West Gateway have a strategic leader as Executive Director. We welcome your interest, seek to engage you and the region during this process, and wish you well in the executive search.