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Aldermen lash out at red tape that snarls hiring, events, capital improvements

CITY HALL – Wednesday was the day for members of the Board of Aldermen’s budgeting committee to complain about how the city’s bureaucracy makes life harder for the public.

They said St. Louis government procedure was making it harder for willing workers to get jobs with the city and was slowing the process of making capital improvements in neighborhoods. They also griped that demands for multiple permits were slowing the process of scheduling summer events such as fairs or block parties as the city emerges from the pandemic.

“We’re still waiting for some sidewalk work. It took forever. And when I complain, they always throw it back to me,” 23rd Ward Alderman Joseph Vaccaro told Richard T. Bradley, president of the Board of Public Service, which handles all building and street construction projects.

“It’s always my fault why it took forever to get cameras in the park,” Vaccaro added.

Twenty-Seventh Ward Alderwoman Pam Boyd said she sought job applicants when she was told the city needed people to apply.

“I’m telling my constituents, ‘They need staff.’ We do the applications. We’ll take ‘em down there, and you lose them,” Boyd told staffers for the Personnel Department. “You don’t lose them once, you lose them three times. And after the third time, I told them, `’I’m too embarrassed to keep asking people to fill out applications.’”

Aldermen criticized the Board of Public Service and the Personnel Department on Wednesday in a budget hearing before the Board of Aldermen’s Ways and Means Committee.  

Boyd said that people were told they could apply online, but noted that not everybody can go online. This is frustrating at a time when the city can’t get enough people to do jobs such as lawn mowing, she said.

 The job situation is especially frustrating when applicants are told they have to get background checks from the city and county police, Boyd said.

City Deputy Director of Personnel Linda Thomas said she agreed with some of what Boyd said.

“We do have a problem with getting background checks, but I’m not comfortable with putting people in departments who have not been background-checked because of children in parks and so forth.” Thomas said. 

Thomas said her department sent the names of applicants to the police department to speed up the process. If there are delays with applicants, they should ask, and the department will check and give a response, Thomas promised.

Thomas also noted that everybody was having problems with hiring.

“Everybody’s hurting, and we raise the minimum rate to $15 an hour, and people just aren’t out there. They get more on unemployment,” she said.

When the board committee was questioning representatives of the Board of Public Service, some questioned how long it takes to get the permits for special events. According to the City Charter, that board is in charge of issuing private business permits and permits to use public places.        

“I just see that we have a lot of things that are overlapping services that need to be unified to make simpler processes for citizens and to make it easier for us as elected citizens,” Boyd said. She said the Board of Public Service should simplify the process.

“It takes too long for some freakin’ sidewalk. That’s too much,” Boyd said.

Bradley said that the criticisms were duly noted and that he would work on them.

“We have done some expediting of processes in my 12 years here,” Bradley said. “We have expedited some contracts to make time more of an open-ended setting.”

If his department went through all the processes the City Charter requires for every project, “It could take up to twice as much time as we’re taking now,” Bradley maintained, saying that the process took a long time.

He vowed, “I give you my word that I will do everything in my power to continue to work with you and staff to expedite the process.”

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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