ST. LOUIS–(KMOX)–The 28 desks where for over a century aldermen have sat, and shouted, and smoked, and crafted legislation, and occassionally napped could soon be rearranged down to just a dozen desks — with plenty of elbow room — under a board reduction plan now in committee.
The proposal, which wouldn’t take place for ten years, was debated with a dash of regret for the fading glories of St. Louis by aldermen who said they hope they will have moved on to other things when it would take effect.
“We have a small geographic area, 60 square miles,” said Alderman Steve Conway, “People will never live in the density levels they did in the 1900s.”
Another member of the Legislation Committee, Alderwoman Dionne Flowers, suggested that “urban flight is not over,” and even more people in the future will be getting out of the city.
Committee Chairwoman Phyllis Young introduced the bill to address what some have said is too many wards and too many aldermen. But not everyone on the committee was for it.
Alderman Freeman Bosley Senior, clutching half a dozen phone messages a secretary handed him from constituents, said aldermen are already “overworked.”
“There ought to be 30 aldermen,” Bosley said.
Alderman Antonio French warned cutting the board in half could mean more work for the survivors and less service for constituents.
“I worry that if we increase our constituents and increase the area that we’re responsible for by two-and-a-half, that we’re going to wind up having a two-and-a-half times busier and two-and-a-half times dumber board of aldermen,” French said.
Alderwoman Flowers expressed general support for the reduction, but suggested the board needs no less than 14 aldermen and they’d have to be full time. (Currently , the aldermen make about $32,000 for what’s classified as a part time job, although many say it’s really full time with all the meetings and phone calls.)
Alderwoman Marlene Davis was the low bidder, proposing that the board could do with even fewer than a dozen aldermen.
“If we could get it down to the bare bones, I would prefer six-to-eight,” Davis said.
Alderman Jeffery Boyd says he’s open to considering a smaller board, but has concerns about a weaker legislative branch being vulnerable to pressure from the mayor’s office to pass legislation.
“Not only the mayor,” Boyd said, “but easy to influence by special interest groups. And I like to use the word manipulate.”
No vote was taken during the Thursday session, after Alderman Joe Roddy discovered a technical flaw in the wording that he said “would’ve caused a train wreck” related to when aldermen in odd and even numbered wards face re-election at different times.
Sponsor Phyllis Young took the bill back to the kitchen for more seasoning, but she hopes to get it through committee and passed by the full board before the July recess. Her plan is to put it on the November ballot. In order to make the necessary changes to the city charter, city voters would have to approve the plan by a 60 percent margin.
There’s no word yet on what they would do with the extra desks, or how the remaining desks might be re-arranged.