By Sam Levin
By Sam Levin
By Sam Levin
By Jessica Lussenhop
By Sam Levin
By Timothy Lane
By Sam Levin
By Dennis Brown
For starters, after the passage of the statewide amendment in November, drafting a charter reform proposal is the next step. The plan is to present that to voters in November 2004. It needs the approval of 60 percent of city voters to be adopted.
Predictably, the first wave of resistance to charter change came from holders of the offices that serve "county" functions in the city, including Treasurer Larry Williams, Recorder of Deeds Sharon Quigley Carpenter and Circuit Clerk Mariano Favazza. They correctly saw the movement to change the charter as a precursor to diminishing, if not eliminating, their offices.
Williams' responsibilities offer a good illustration of how limited the mayor's authority is. As treasurer, Williams collects revenues from the city's parking meters and garages and receives money from fines paid for parking tickets -- revenues the mayor's office doesn't control. His office also has the authority to issue bonds and buy real estate. The mayor has no power to get the treasurer to buy, or not buy, a building.
In recent times, Williams has been described as a shrewd investor, but whatever he does with the city's parking revenues, he does outside the purview of the mayor's office. Williams, the only citywide elected black official other than Green, expressed early doubts about charter reform but recently has been quiet on the issue.
Favazza and Carpenter have been more vocal. Favazza expresses concerns that if his office is put under the supervision of the St. Louis Circuit Court, its $5 million budget, now covered by the state, might become the city's responsibility. Carpenter says she is going to wait and see what the charter proposal is but that she "probably" would not support any move to make her office appointive. Carpenter is the committeewoman of Slay's home base, the vote-heavy 23rd Ward.
Some of the strong opposition to charter reform from county office-holders has dissipated, in part, because some of those elected officials will be ready to retire by the time any change is adopted. Any county office holder will be able to finish out his or her four-year term no matter what charter change is adopted. Williams and Sheriff Jim Murphy are up for re-election in November 2004.
One county office holder in the city says his colleagues know something will happen; they just don't know what it will be yet.
"It's interesting that the county offices have always been the subject of this, but the more you get into it, the more you see other things unraveling," says license collector Greg F. X. Daly. "In that last meeting, people didn't really talk about the county offices, they were more interested in cutting the board of aldermen and having a comptroller who was in tune with the mayor. Nobody knows where this is going to go."
Maybe not, but Darlene Green has heard and seen enough to be concerned and to raise her normally low public profile.
With the rumblings that the Board of E&A might be disbanded and the role of the comptroller diminished, Green has unexpectedly emerged as potentially the strongest opponent to sweeping charter reform.
Sitting behind her desk, talking about charter reform, the demure comptroller doesn't come off as someone in the middle of a City Hall power-struggle. She measures her words carefully, stopping short of drawing a line in the sand on the preservation of the Board of E&A.
Green does make it clear that she thinks the board is needed.
"I think E&A has an important role when it comes to protecting taxpayers' dollars. The comptroller, as an independent, elected official, has served the people well," Green says. "Look what has happened in corporate America with Enron, where the corporate CEO and CFO were in lockstep. You destroyed thousands of lives because of mismanagement."
Green doesn't support the general drift toward giving the mayor more power at the expense of the Board of E&A. She worries that diminishing the power of the comptroller reduces the ability for that office to be a watchdog of city funds.
"The people need to be cautious about that," says Green, who has been comptroller for eight years. "It certainly doesn't seem to be true that if the mayor has more power, the city would run better. I base that on what we've seen so far."
Green says the 1914 charter diluted the mayor's power in order to counteract corruption. "The people were saying we don't want corruption, it's got to stop. Let's not turn back the clock to a time when we had people who could do what they wanted to do with the taxpayers' money without accountability."
Green was virtually drafted into politics when Mayor Freeman Bosley Jr., the city's first black mayor, appointed her comptroller in 1995 to take the place of Virvus Jones, who had just pleaded guilty to two charges of federal tax fraud. Since then, she's had a scandal-free tenure, holding office as the city's credit rating was raised five times to an "A" rating. And in the past eight years, Green has learned a few things about politics.
When she was called by the public relations firm trying to spin some positive news coverage out of the current city schools controversy, Green knew enough to stay away. Green says a representative from Fleishman-Hillard asked her if she wanted to "present" her views on the situation to the school board.
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