Short Cuts

Page is also to serve as "somebody on the inside to communicate our artistic vision. Page is a terrific speaker and a terrific writer. Page is a great communicator in a nontechnical way." With Page, SLSO hopes to better communicate the value of the classical repertoire through talks, special exhibits or special minicourses that would explain "why we're doing the music, what it's about and why you might find it interesting, exciting or stimulating."

Roth describes the appointment of Page as a "slam-dunk" for SLSO. Eight or nine candidates were interviewed over a 10-month selection process, but Page was the unanimous choice: "We knew he loved us because he's given us rave reviews. He's very positive about Vonk and the orchestra. As he said, it's one of only a couple of orchestras that if they'd call, he'd listen."

Page will also join the music faculty at the University of Missouri-St. Louis when he moves to St. Louis this summer. With such a long list of accomplishments at the age of 45, Page could inspire envy in some bitter, middle-aged local critics. Roth cautions against suchcontinued on next pagecontinued from previous pagefeelings: "You didn't have a film made about you when you were 12. You didn't have that advantage." (ES)

A CITY LESS ODD, PLEASE: "Aberrant" is the word to describe the city of St. Louis. Former Mayor Vince Schoemehl used that adjective on Saturday during a mayoral panel discussion held by the St. Louis Association of Community Organizations at St. Louis Community College-Forest Park. Current Mayor Clarence Harmon resorted to the adjective later to describe the city's governmental structure, which was influenced largely by the city limits set in 1876 and a city charter drafted in 1914. What brought together Harmon, Schoemehl and former Mayors Freeman Bosley Jr. and James Conway was the one thing short of a Republican that would bring them together -- the ongoing effort to allow the city to reform its charter ("Solving St. Louis," RFT, July 1, 1998). The subplot is to streamline city government, as recommended in the Walker Report, but all four mayors tiptoed around specifics, hoping instead to woo the crowd of several hundred neighborhood activists to help them in their effort to gain support in the General Assembly in Jefferson City.

All four admitted that any hope for success this session is next to nil, so the focus should be on next year's legislative session. The first step is the formation of a 60-member steering committee to lobby state legislators representing the city to push legislation that will permit city voters to change their charter to make the city a home-rule "county." As it stands now, St. Louis is a "city not within a county" but has elected officeholders (treasurer, sheriff, etc.) who perform county functions and do not report to the mayor. The highly unusual city-county structure, with identical jurisdictional boundaries and dual sets of offices, causes all sorts of headaches, the mayors agreed.

"The confusion that we create by being aberrant has an impact on us that cannot be measured, but I can tell you it's real," Schoemehl said.

One reason to change the charter, Bosley said, is that the city has more elected officials than any other city its size in America: "Do we need to change the city charter? You got three former mayors here who say yes. You got a present mayor who probably knows it needs to be done, but, for the most part, because this issue is so controversial, there's very few things he could say about it that would not bring him grief. But, having been there, we know what the situation is; we know the real deal."

Harmon admitted that he is treading on delicate ground. County officeholders view "charter reform" as a stealth term for "elimination of county offices." The mayors spoke to their lack of control over county offices and how that weakened their job. City Treasurer Larry Williams, and his ability to buy buildings and build parking garages pretty much on his own, was mentioned several times, though all were quick to add that Williams was doing a fine job.

Harmon stressed that voters hold the key to reform. "While you see us here, as proponents of charter reform, it will be you who will cause the charter to be reformed," Harmon told the crowd, "because if you expect city politicians to do this, don't hold your breath."

Conway, a former state legislator as well as a former mayor, was optimistic about getting the enabling legislation through the Legislature next session. One of the keys, he says, is keeping the first step purposefully vague: "None of us are up here proposing a specific type of change, because, quite frankly, politically that's not too smart. Because then, for people who are opposed to one thing or another, you might disclose a handle for them to grab onto and be opposed. What we're saying is that St. Louis city ought to have the opportunity to decide, by you, the exact form of government that it wants to control its future. It's possible."

Another strategy, perhaps to ease the anxieties of the city's 28 aldermen, would be to give them a role in the change. The Legislature's action would only pave the way for a reformed charter, which could be concocted by the aldermen before it is approved or rejected by voters.

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