CoronavirusNewsPoliticsThe NorthSider

Mayor’s office kept out of committee meeting on COVID relief

CITY HALL – An aldermanic committee held on Tuesday the first of several meetings to discuss how to spend $80 million in American Rescue Plan Act money, but without any representatives from the mayor’s office.

Nick Dunne, public information officer for Mayor Tishaura Jones, said in an email that ​her office was invited to come to the meeting of the Housing, Urban Development and Zoning (HUDZ) Committee on Tuesday morning. But at the request of Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed, Committee Chairman and 22nd Ward Alderman Jeffrey Boyd pulled the presentation about an hour before the meeting started, Dunne said.

“We were ready to get this process moving,” Dunne wrote. “Any further delay is only going to cause further harm to the people who will be impacted by the June 30 expiration of both CARES act rental/utility assistance and the CDC eviction moratorium.”

But Reed’s legislative director, Mary Goodman, said a letter that went out from the board’s clerk said the meeting was about the process. She said Reed had said during the meeting that representatives of the mayor’s office would be able to speak at a hearing before the HUDZ committee at 6 p.m. Thursday.

Boyd also scheduled meetings of his committee to discuss the matter.

The request by Reed came after an extended argument at last week’s meeting of the Board of Estimate and Apportionment over what to do about a $5.7 million budget shortfall for the year starting July 1. 

Reed said the budget with the shortfall should be allowed to go into effect, and that it should be fixed in a new bill soon afterwards. But the mayor and Comptroller Darlene Green said the board should amend the budget to add more revenue and then pass it before July 1. 

In Tuesday’s meeting, Reed said he’d like to see the bill passed by July 16, the last Board of Aldermen meeting before the group’s summer break. He also said he’d like to see comments from a large number of people.

Reed is hoping to get help from a large number of people, including radio stations, he said. He also said a website would go up allowing people to give comments, at https://www.stlouis-mo.gov/government/departments/aldermen/american-recovery-funds.cfm.

In a lengthy discussion, 25th Ward Alderman Shane Cohn sharply criticized Reed’s handling of the issue and what he saw as failing to involve the mayor more. Cohn asked why the mayor’s office had been disinvited at the last minute. 

“It was my understanding that we were supposed to have a presentation from the mayor’s office this morning,” Cohn said. 

He said that Reed was the sponsor of the bill and added, “Why wouldn’t you have encouraged those communities or interest groups to participate in the mayor’s process?”

Cohn said that already about 2,000 citizens had commented in the mayor’s process. 

But Reed said that as the legislative branch, the Board of Aldermen should handle the process and make sure that everyone was involved.

Last week, the mayor’s office announced a detailed plan for allocating the money.

In a related move, Reed asked on Tuesday that the city encumber $100,000 for rental and mortgage assistance through July covered by the United Way, the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis and other agencies with a contract for services past June 30. Right now, the city would lose money funded by the CARES Act on June 30. 

The Board of Aldermen wouldn’t need to pass any bill for the city to take this step. This would allow the agencies to use the money in July, Reed said.

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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