Freeholders board may offer new path to city-county merger

CITY HALL – Volunteers on a proposed Board of Freeholders soon may start a new process of developing a way for St. Louis and St. Louis County to end their 143-year-old “Great Divorce.”

The Municipal League of Metro St. Louis has turned in most of the signatures needed to establish a Board of Freeholders that could recommend changes in the relationship between the city and the county. After that, city and county residents would vote on the recommendations. A majority of both city and county voters would be needed for approval.

After the required petitions are certified, the mayor has 10 days to appoint nine freeholders. During that time, the St. Louis Board of Aldermen must approve the mayor’s picks. Also within 10 days, the County Executive must appoint nine freeholders and get them approved by the County Council. No more than five members from the city or the county may be from the same political party. The governor also must nominate a freeholder. 

Because of the short time frame to appoint freeholders, Mayor Lyda Krewson wants to be ready with a list of candidates.

“I am committed to nominating a panel of knowledgeable, caring and thoughtful city voters who are committed to providing equitable and enhanced economic opportunities and safer neighborhoods for all,” the mayor wrote in a post on the city website and social media.

“We want to make sure that we have nine people that represent all the diverse interests in the city,” said Stephen Conway, the mayor’s chief of staff.

Krewson wrote, “This is a unique opportunity to serve our city. Please give it some thought, and volunteer if you are able.”

Those interested may find details on this website.

‘The mayor just wants to make sure that she has a fair amount of time to deliberate,” Conway said.

If the Board of Freeholders is established, it would take up the task formerly handled by the nonprofit Better Together. That group withdrew earlier this year a petition for a statewide vote. 

Pat Kelly, executive director of the Municipal League, said his group started working in January on an initiative petition for a Board of Freeholders. The state Constitution says a number of voters equal to three percent of those who voted in the most recent governor’s race have to sign petitions in the city and county in order for the petitions to be validated. That amounts to 15,500 certified signatures in the county and 4,000 in the city. 

The group hopes to submit all the signatures for a final count in September. After that, the Board of Freeholders may meet for up to 12 months. There must be a majority vote in the city and the county before a proposal is accepted. 

The league’s position has been that it should at least look at what it would take for the city to enter the county as a municipality, Kelly said. 

Better Together didn’t really have a public process, Kelly said. “It was not only inappropriate, it was plain undemocratic and un-American.”

If everything takes the maximum amount of time, the earliest something could go on the ballot would be 2022, Kelly said.

The city split from the county in the “Great Divorce” of 1876.

Jim Merkel Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit

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