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$1.5 million allocated for anti-violence programs

CITY HALL – The city now has least $2 million to spend on programs to fight violence, perhaps including the popular Cure Violence model.

The Board of Estimate and Apportionment voted Wednesday to reallocate $1.5 million from facilities and grounds in the Corrections Division budget to violence prevention alternatives. The 2019-2020 city budget already includes $500,000 for that purpose.

“I think that is a good starting point for this program,” Mayor Lyda Krewson said. “We’ve got to start and see what it costs. It may end up costing more than that later on down the road, but the first thing that we’ve got to do is get started.”

Although the allocation is for overall violence prevention, Krewson said she expected that much of it would be put toward the Cure Violence program.

The estimate board consists of the mayor, the aldermanic president and the comptroller. It must approve all budget and money items passed by the Board of Aldermen. However, aldermen don’t have to okay this transfer, because the original allocation to the Corrections Division has already been approved.

A bill now before the Board of Aldermen to allocate $8 million for Cure Violence was on the agenda for Wednesday’s estimate board meeting. However, Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed, the bill’s sponsor, said he had asked to withdraw it because he wanted it to go through a public hearing first.

Although the estimate board allocated another $1.5 million for violence prevention alternatives, Reed doesn’t plan to keep his proposal at $8 million, his legislative director, Mary Ries, said. 

Cure Violence works to address the issue of violent crime as a public health crisis, treating it like a disease. There have been reports of sharp declines in shootings and killings in areas throughout the world that have adopted the approach. Cure Violence uses “violence interrupters” who intervene in situations in neighborhoods before they get out of hand.  

Reed said he initially put the $8 million item for Cure Violence on the estimate board agenda, but asked to pull it when he decided it wasn’t ready. When he saw it on the agenda, he said it was another example of how the board’s secretary didn’t respond to agenda requests.

A sharp debate between Reed and Comptroller Darlene Green followed, mirroring a similar kerfuffle at the August meeting over the same issue. Stephanie Green, an employee of Darlene Green, is the estimate board secretary.

When the dust settled, the board voted 2-0 with Darlene Green abstaining to have the city counselor draw up a proposed set of formal procedures for it to consider at its October meeting. The counselor would look at a set of deadlines for the agenda that Green drew up.

Green’s guidelines called for members to submit agenda items by a preliminary meeting held on the Thursday before the regular estimate board meeting at 2 p.m. on the following Wednesday.

 The deadline for removing items, making and submitting add-ons would be 5 p.m. on the Friday before the meeting. The final deadline for emergency items would be at 2 p.m. on Monday. That’s 24 hours before agendas must be posted to comply with the Sunshine Law. 

“After 13 years of serving on this committee, I’ve never experienced what I’ve experienced these last few months,” Reed said.

“I can agree to that,” Green answered. “I’ve never experienced what I’ve experienced in my 25 years sitting at this table, two of them as budget director.”

After going over the procedures, Green said the secretary was a civil service employee working under her direction. “Are you saying you’re unhappy with Stephanie Green?” she said. 

“This does not constitute the working policies of this board,” Reed replied. 

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com 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 www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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