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COUNTERPOINT: Should St. Louis City and County be merged?

No. Threatening sovereignty of municipalities is undemocratic, unconstitutional — and un-American

p21 KellyBy PAT KELLY
    Self-determination is the bedrock of our democracy. America was founded on the principle of self-rule, closest to the people. This is one of the fundamental and overarching fallacies of Better Together’s proposal to force the merger of all the municipalities, St. Louis County and the City of St. Louis into one Metro St. Louis.
    This proposal, hatched by corporate chieftains, the County Executive and Mayor of The City of St. Louis behind closed doors without any input from elected municipal officials, city administrators or municipal police chiefs or the general public, conjures up an excuse to amend the State Constitution requiring a statewide vote on this local matter.  The reason Better Together’s plan requires a statewide is very clear, because it violates the constitution and the Missouri Revised Statues.  
    Better Together is using the Constitution which is supposed to protect the rights of citizens to take their rights.  There are several types of municipalities authorized by state law; 3rd class, 4th class and villages, but the Missouri Constitution also authorizes the formation of a charter cities.  Under a charter city form of government the residents create and approve, by a vote of the people, the governmental structure under which the want to live.  There are 17 charter cities in St. Louis County including some of the oldest in the state; Florissant (1786), Kirkwood (1853), Webster Groves (1896) and city of Ferguson (1894) just to name a few.  Under the Better Together plan they would lose their sovereignty.  Their charter approved by a vote of the people, authorized and protected by the constitution would be discarded.  This is undemocratic and un-American.   
    The constitution also requires that if two counties wish to merge, the voters of both counties must approve the merger by a majority vote in each county.  The Better Together plan takes that right and protection away from the residents of St. Louis City and County and gives it to the voters across the state in cities like Kansas City, Arrow Point, Clinton and Shelbyville.    
    Why should voters in distant parts of Missouri vote on merging the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County? Would any other city and county in Missouri want St. Louisans voting on their self-government?  Better Together’s contrived excuse for a statewide vote is specious at best and disenfranchises and dilutes the will of the people in our City and County. It’s an end run around local control of our communities that is the fiber of our democracy.
    Better Together’s plan also changes the municipalities into what they are calling municipal districts.  The municipalities are no longer a political subdivision of the State of Missouri, they become a political subdivision of the new Metro St. Louis.  All authority, property and ability to exist is controlled by the 33-member council of the new Metro St. Louis.  Metro St. Louis also takes control of all municipal sales taxes, authorized by the state of Missouri for local use upon approval by a local vote.  This confiscating of local taxes violates state law.  For those taxes to be use outside of the communities they were authorized requires a vote of the people.  This is a bald-faced redistribution of wealth, leaving municipalities in St. Louis County without the means to provide essential services.
    The Missouri Constitution already has provisions that would allow forms of consolidation by local voters. A statewide vote is unnecessary and purposely circumvents the right to decide these issues for ourselves. That is why the Municipal League of Metro St. Louis and volunteers across the City and County are gathering signatures calling for the formation of the board of freeholders.  This is the constitutionally authorized process allowing City and County residents the opportunity to voice their opinions in a transparent, public and open forum on their governmental structure and ultimately cast their votes on any proposed plan.
    The Better Together proposal, if approved, will also eliminate the board of freeholder’s process from the constitution, taking away the ability for the residents to change the structure in the future without making another constitutional amendment.   
    Better Together has stated as part of their outreach they collected information from some 2,100 residents at seven public forums and online surveys in addition to some 250 stakeholders’ meetings.  Let us assume there were 10 people at each stakeholder meeting since they didn’t give a number and there is no public record to support the information.  This would mean that they collected input from 4,600 people or 0.35 percent of the population of St. Louis City and County. This is not a good representation of the people.  They would have had more participation if they had asked for input on the elimination of municipal police departs, local control of zoning or reducing municipalities in St. Louis County to no more than homeowner associations.    
    If Better Together values the rights of the residents of St. Louis City and County, they would insist a majority of voters in St. Louis and St. Louis County approve it first and then seek to amend the constitution.
    Better Together’s proposal is unconstitutional, undemocratic and un-American.  Both the United States and Missouri Constitution start with, “We the people” not “We the many.”  As Abraham Lincoln stated at the Gettysburg Address, “that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
    Better Together believes it knows how our cities and neighborhood should be governed and by whom. We believe local voters know better. Who do you trust?
    Former Brentwood Mayor Pat Kelly is executive director of the St. Louis County Municipal League. He wrote this column at the request of the Illinois Business Journal.

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