By Danny Wicentowski
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By RFT Staff
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Freeman Bosley Jr., who was mayor from 1993 until 1997, doesn't think these ongoing skirmishes between Slay and Green have risen to the level of being a major concern for those who want city charter reform, but they have that potential. The key, says Bosley, is not to let who is holding the office define the office itself.
"If we focus on who is the mayor as opposed to what is it that the mayor ought to be able to do, then we're always going to have problems," Bosley says. "At this point, it hasn't gotten to that level. A lot of this is inside baseball now. But with the school board and other issues playing out publicly, that's going to be a concern. But we've been working on this for over seven years. Some of this stuff is going to come and go but we'll still be around."
To Virvus Jones, the former comptroller, the struggle boils down to power. He thinks the city would be better off without the Board of E&A, even though he relished being on that board when he was a politician. "That's where I was and I used all the power I had. That's what people do when they have power, they use it. It's like all these mayors, none of these mayors when they were in office supported home rule. I'm taking the same hindsight luxury that they're taking."
For Slay, that "hindsight luxury" extends to when he was aldermanic president. In 1998, when he was outside Room 200 looking in, he didn't think giving the mayor more power was such a good idea [D.J. Wilson, "City Limits," December 9, 1998].
"My position is that no one has ever convinced me that by making these county offices appointed by the mayor that it would in any way improve the efficiency of city government," Slay said in December '98. "The problems that people have, the ones I hear about in city government, the vast majority are about departments where the mayor has direct control over them -- Midnite Basketball, the permit process, bureaucratic red tape and trying to get development done through the St. Louis Development Corporation. You could go on and on."
When he was mayor, Clarence Harmon even called a meeting with the county office holders to assure them he was steering clear of charter reform. Since leaving office in 2001 after one term, Harmon has been active in supporting charter change. He doesn't see the need for the Board of E&A. The board of aldermen, Harmon believes, could oversee the mayor's budget.
"We don't need to have a system where you've got to work politics three ways every month to decide issues," Harmon says. "There is as much opportunity for mischief in that process as anything else, because I've been through it. People grandstand, this guy's got a forum, that guy's got a forum, I have to say something to counter that. How that occurs increases the flux and the antipathy among the three members."
Vince Schoemehl, who served as mayor from 1981 until 1993, doesn't have any preconditions about what structural changes he wants from charter reform. Ever the dealmaker, he doesn't necessarily support eliminating the county offices, reducing the number of aldermen or disbanding the Board of E&A. All he wants to do is to reorganize city government and modernize its data so that developers and investors can get what they need in a timely manner.
"The only thing that I want to see happen is see the city get organized in such a way that it can compete in the Information Age," Schoemehl says. "As information technology has become increasingly employed by other taxing jurisdictions to present themselves to the investment community, older cities have become more challenged. St. Louis, because of its structure, is at a rather acute disadvantage."
That Bert Walker, a Republican investment executive, led the charter reform effort early and then handed it off to Mike Jones, an African-American with a political and deal-making background, should surprise no one.
"Two communities will have to work together, the business community and the African-American community," Jones says. "They cannot get a charter referendum passed without the substantial support of the African-American community. You have to make it efficient for business and fair for the African-American community. You miss either part of that, you lose."
African-Americans have good reason to be anxious about how fair the process is, but they also have a stake in rejuvenating city government. "If St. Louis ever gets an African-American mayor again, that mayor will need the tools to meet the expectations of those who elected him."
Jones knows that diversity has to be about race, gender and geography. The 150 "stakeholders" who will be picked to draft the charter proposal need to be the right mix so that the general public buys into the process. A black individual from the Central West End, Jones says, won't have the same worldview as a black individual living in North St. Louis.
And no matter how many former mayors or politicians show up at meetings, the public's level of interest will determine the success of the reform movement.