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All of Missouri to decide St. Louis's Right to Home Rule

October 28, 2002
By: Jason McLure
State Capital Bureau

Jefferson City - Missouri's four million registered voters will decide whether the city of St. Louis' 350,000 residents should be allowed Home Rule, a right enjoyed by all of Missouri's other large counties.

Amendment One would change a clause in the Constitution that has left the city government without control over parking fees, business licenses, and numerous other local government responsibilites.

St. Louis's 1876 split from suburban St. Louis County left the city with two separate forms of local government covering the same geographic area: the municipal government headed by the mayor and a pseudo-county government of elected officals overseen by the legislature in Jefferson City.

The offices of sheriff, license collector, recorder of deeds, and four other positions in the city of St. Louis are elected independently and are not responsible to the city government.

Supporters of Home Rule argue that if the city is allowed to manage its own affairs, many redundancies in local government could be eliminated. For example, many duties of the sheriff's office could be taken over by the police.

Sen. Marvin Singleton, R-Seneca, said the legislature's constant involvement in local St. Louis politics is a distraction from more important business.

"It does seem a little silly every time the policemen and firemen of the city of St. Louis want a pay raise that the Missouri Legislature votes on it," he said. "Nowhere else in the state of Missouri does that occur."

Jason Hannasch, of Yes for Amendment One, said the only way the Amendment would be defeated is if voters fail to understand it.

"The city has been in decline for the last 50 years," he said. "It's gone from being in the top 3 or 4 cities in the nation to substantially down on the list."

Hannasch added that the amendment doesn't cost taxpayers anything and that streamlining city government could help stem the city's declining population and tax base.

"It's really a question of fairness," he said. "Every other big county in the state has this right."

A coalition led by several prominent African-Americans in the city, including Alderman Irving Clay and former state senator Jet Banks is lobbying against the Amendment.

They argue Home Rule would actually give citizens less voice in local affairs because a change in the city charter would likely result in elected officials being replaced by mayoral appointees.

Clay argues that Home Rule is a power-play by the city's large corporations and wealthy citizens to centralize power in the mayor's office. He points out that the wealthy can more easily influence the mayor and his appointments than they can eight separate, elected officials.

To combat opposition and increase awareness of the issue, the amendment's supporters have raised more than $600,000 to campaign for the amendment.

If polls are any indication, supporters will need that and more to ensure Home Rule's passage.

A statewide poll conducted by Zogby International last week for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch showed 42.1 percent opposed to Amendment One and just 29.3 percent in favor. The margin of error for the poll is 3.5 percent.