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Coalition wants independent commission to redraw wards

CITY HALL – Members of a wide coalition of citizens groups announced on Tuesday plans to put a City Charter question on the ballot to reform the way ward boundaries are redrawn after every census.

If the measure was passed, an independent citizens ward redistricting commission, rather than the Board of Aldermen, would redraw ward boundaries.

The same measure would prevent lobbyists, aldermen and others who have a conflict of interest from being on the commission. Also, aldermen could not be involved in any action on any policies or legislation in which they had a personal or financial conflict of interest.

The Reform St. Louis Coalition tentatively wants to gather 30,000 signatures outside the polls on March 2 and April 6, to get the charter measure on the November 2021 ballot. But the coalition would do it only if it reaches a goal of collecting $100,000 by Feb. 28 and recruiting at least 200 volunteers to gather signatures at the polls.

Campaign director Taylor Jackson said her group was close to reaching those goals.

“We’re feeling really very confident that we will hit the goal on both accounts,” Jackson said.

Jackson also said that polls of more than 400 people indicated that more than 75 percent of St. Louisan favor the measure. Sixty percent of voters would have to approve the measure for it to pass.

Those who spoke at a news conference outside of City Hall said the proposal would give more power to city residents.

“We are here to put people over politics, to put St. Louisans first, not special interests,” Benjamin Singer, executive director of Show Me Integrity, told members of the media at a news conference outside City Hall on Tuesday. His group is one of those involved in the coalition.

“St. Louisans deserve a Board of Aldermen that prioritizes our city, not special interests,” Singer said. Right now, city laws allow aldermen to engage in issues despite conflicts of interests.

“Our community coalition is taking a desperately needed reform measure directly to voted to stop gerrymandering, increase transparency at the Board of Aldermen, and make our leaders accountable to all St. Louisans,” Singer said.

One of the speakers at the news conference was Sixth Ward Alderwoman Christine Ingrassia.

Christine Ingrassia
“We have an opportunity here in the city to bring our Board of Aldermen in line with best practices around the county,” Ingrassia said.

“Redistricting should happen and be in the hands of the people,” she said. “Right now, the aldermen are allowed to choose their voters, and gerrymandering has been a problem in the city of St. Louis for a long time.”

Ingrassia noted that she represented parts of nine wards, none of them in their entirety.

“This initiative will allow us again to be in line with best practices around the country, to make sure that we can engender the trust that our city residents are so desperately asking us for,”she said.

Under the measure, an alderman’s financial disclosure statements would have to be posted online and open to the public without being requested.

Members of the independent citizens commission would have to be equitably selected. They would hold public hearings and would have to keep communities and neighborhoods together.

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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