CITY HALL – Once again, Mayor Tishaura Jones and Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed spent much of a meeting of the city’s top financial board arguing and talking over each other.
Before the gavel went down on Wednesday’s meeting, the Board of Estimate and Apportionment had approved a measure to spend $81.4 million in federal funds for direct COVID-19 relief. Jones and Comptroller Darlene Green voted yes, and Reed refused to vote.
For this to become law, the Board of Aldermen would have to pass a new bill or an amended version of a similar bill it is already considering, and the mayor would have to sign it.
A major part of the arguing had to do with who is responsible for delay on the relief package.
Reed said Jones hadn’t sent her proposals for such a bill to the Board of Aldermen for a month and a half. She sent them only recently, he said. That package, which came from a public engagement process, makes up the bill that passed the estimate board on Wednesday.
“You held onto it for over 45 days,” Reed said. “My question back to you is, why did we not move faster?” He also said the board couldn’t pass a bill immediately.
Jones said that Reed had had plenty of time to make changes but that he hadn’t done it.
“There are plenty of rules that can be suspended in order to continue through the passage of this direct relief package, because people are dying,” Jones said. She criticized Reed for not participating in the public engagement process. More than 2,500 people filled out surveys, and more than 100 people commented at a public hearing.
Now questions remain about whether the Board of Aldermen will approve just passed by the estimate board and what will happen to a bill now before the aldermanic board to spend $80 million on direct COVID-19 relief. The estimate board must act on money bills, and it hasn’t acted on this one.
In addition, there’s a question of whether arguments will be a regular part of estimate board meetings.
“We can work together, Lewis, or we can continue this back-and-forth,” the mayor declared, “but if we do, people are dying daily.”
Reed responded, “Is this the new way we’re going to do business, or are we going to allow each other to talk?”
“Participation is very important,” Green emphasized. “We’re in an unprecedented time, and we must participate on the committees that come before these meetings.”
She noted that the city is set to receive $500 million in federal COVID-19 relief money.
“I assure you that all the ‘coulda, woulda shoulda’ that you’re referencing, Mr. President, those are past, and we need to look forward and to move forward with the board bill presented today for the first time.”
Mary Goodman, Reed’s legislative director, said the Board of Alderman wouldn’t consider the measure passed by the estimate board because it was now a board bill and there was already a bill in place to handle the COVID relief money. That will go before the estimate board, she said.
The aldermanic Housing, Urban Development and Zoning Committee will make changes next week before the bill is finally passed by the Board of Aldermen on July 16, Goodman said.
The package approved by the estimate board is not a done deal, Goodman said in an email: “The Mayor does not have the authority to pass anything.”
The bill passed by the estimate board calls for spending:
- $6.75 million for vaccinations, including mobile vaccine clinics and community canvasses in neighborhoods and homes
- $58 million in direct relief, including housing and utility assistance, support for the unhoused, immediate cash assistance, and public benefits navigators to help residents connect with these services
- $11.5 million for violence intervention programs, and programs for youth and jobs.
In other action, the estimate board voted to provide $200,000 to the United Way of Greater St. Louis and the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis for rental assistance programs and to get ready for July 31, when the federal eviction moratorium probably will end.
The estimate board also approved a $200,000 contract for vaccine canvasses to encourage people in disinvested communities to get vaccinated.