Naming of freeholders remains stalled as 2020 nears

Naming of freeholders remains stalled as 2020 nears

ST. LOUIS – As the impasse over the Board of Freeholders moves toward the new year, there is disagreement over how long that board will have to do its work after all members are finally named.

Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed said recently that the freeholders would have a year to deliberate.

But Pat Kelly, executive director of the Municipal League of Metro St. Louis, said there may be more than two months less than that, and more so if things drag on longer.

“It doesn’t seem to be a top priority for the elected body [in the city],” Kelly said. 

According to the state Constitution, the Board of Freeholders would discuss ways the city and St. Louis County could work together, including a possible merger. The freeholders board would finish its work within a year and then potentially submit a question to the voters for action.

The Municipal League submitted petitions for both the city and the county on Sept. 23. The county quickly named its nine members, and Gov. Mike Parson named a member.

But the Board of Aldermen has been unable to approve a list of nine members, largely because north side aldermen are worried they won’t have enough representation. The naming process is now stuck in the aldermanic Intergovernmental Affairs Committee.

One interpretation of the state Constitution was that there was a period of 10 days after petitions were certified for all members to be seated. Kelly said right after petitions were submitted that he believed the state Constitution indicated that the appointments must be completed within 30 days of certification. That would have been Oct. 23.

The freeholders met without city members in an introductory meeting in November but didn’t do anything.

Kelly said the already-named members of the Board of Freeholders should meet, name legal counsel and answer the question of when the 12 months start.

But Reed said the 12 months would start a year after all members were named.

“As we currently stand, the board has not been fully seated, and they have not officially kicked off,” Reed said recently. “The county has been clear that they want to wait until the city folks are fully seated.”

Reed said the question of who represents the city on the Freeholders Board should be one of the first things the Board of Aldermen does after it returns Jan. 10 from its winter holiday break.

“I’m hoping that when we get back, we will have everybody on the same page,” Reed said. “I’m encouraged because now everybody’s talking.” In an issue with such wide-ranging implications, he said, “I understand why people would want to see their representation across the spectrum of people that will be making these decisions.”

Besides concerns about adequate representation of African-Americans, there also were demands for representation of LGBTQIA people and members of ethnic minorities.

Mayor Lyda Krewson has to nominate potential freeholders for the Board of Aldermen to approve. Jacob Long, her director of communications, said it was up to the aldermen to act.

“We have more than accommodated the Aldermen and submitted four new nominees. They need to schedule a meeting and act,” Long said in a recent email. “Your questions are best directed to the President of the Board of Aldermen or the Chairman of the Intergovernmental Affairs Committee, as the ball is in their court.”

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