My Statement on the Jason Stockley Verdict

My immediate reaction after seeing the verdict and reading the judgment in the murder trial of Jason Stockley was to be appalled and disgusted, and struck by a sense of depression over how predictable this outcome was - how we've seen it before - although this time the black box of the jury was broken open and we could see the machinations of Judge Tim Wilson's intent to ignore and diminish Jason Stockley's actions, to disregard DNA evidence and Stockely's own words and contort them into a not guilty verdict.

Several days of reflection have not diminished any of those feelings. What I believe the broader public in St. Louis would like to hear is an admission from the acting Police Chief that there was overwhelming evidence presented at trial that Jason Stockley planted a gun in Anthony Lamar Smith's car after killing him, in an attempt to justify the killing. Only Jason Stockley's DNA was on the gun - including, as presented at trial - in places where you could only deposit DNA by disassembling the gun. On the other hand, the victim's DNA wasn't there, even after being shot and bleeding all over the inside of the car where the gun was supposed to have been. While the judge dismissed this as inconclusive and irrelevant, it bears stating what everyone knows: Jason Stockley almost certainly planted that gun. Its the only explanation that is consistent with the evidence, which doesn't require flights of fancy to believe. The simplest explanation here, consistent with all the evidence, is the one we should believe.

People expect police officers to be given the benefit of the doubt in many situations, and they are. But everything needs to have a limit. What residents should know is that prosecutors are loathe to prosecute police officers for crimes. And two St. Louis prosecutors, Jennifer Joyce and Kim Gardner, pursued charges of first degree murder against Jason Stockley, because it was a case they could not ignore. Prosecutors do not charge police officers unless they are compelled by evidence to do so. Prosecuting a police officer is difficult, time consuming, politically unpopular, and unlikely to result in a conviction. The reality is prosecutors do not pursue charges without compelling evidence of guilt. These are not fishing expeditions. When a judge ignores evidence at a trial, and injects thinly coded racist language into the verdict, what else can we conclude but that the latent racism of our country prevented a just and fair verdict?

Despite the verdict, we still cannot ignore what in all probability happened. A police officer, who was already in violation of a number of important police procedures, including carrying and brandishing his own assault rifle during this interaction, planted a gun on a suspect after saying he would kill him, killed him 45 seconds later, and a judge ignored that in his verdict. The evidence was such that even other, current St. Louis police officers were calling for the conviction of Stockley after evidence presented at trial.

None of this is to defend the actions of Smith that day. But we know that he would have faced serious consequences within the judicial system after being arrested. The system would have vigorously brought charges against him for his dangerous actions.

The reality of the criminal justice system in general is that most people do not expect perfection. Police are going to get cut some breaks and society accepts that. But the same reality is that the justice system has to be able to convict police in egregious situations like this. People do not need to believe that justice will be automatic, but we do need to believe that it is a possibility - that in cases with clear evidence of criminal acts, witnesses, DNA evidence, video, that in these circumstances police are not above the law.

The irony of this verdict is it only makes policing harder. Jason Stockley is long gone from St. Louis and is no longer a police officer. But police here today face more anger and skepticism because of his actions. They face less support, less trust, less regard, and that makes all residents less safe. A few writers at the Post Dispatch may be oblivious to what protestors are talking about, but its painfully obvious: residents want a system where egregious criminal activity by a police officer can successfully prosecuted. Its not an abstract concept.

We can't prosecute Jason Stockley again. What can we do? We're about to hire a new police chief, this is our first chance to hire a person who has substantial experience outside the St. Louis Police Dept. We need to hire a person who can at least acknowledge the reality of cases like the Stockley case. We need someone concerned with effective and fair policing over public relations, with the ability to strengthen the police department by acknowledging when the wrong things happen, and with the desire to prevent what happened in the Stockley case from happening again. As is so often said, you can't fix the problem until you acknowledge it. I hear the overwhelming chorus of residents acknowledging it. Will the next police chief? The next judge? Doing better is the only option.

Perspective on the Medium Security Institution

Now that temporary air conditioning has been installed at MSI, I want to reflect on the future of the facility, the events of the last week, and look at the whole picture of who is responsible for people being detained on bond at either of the City's jails.

I am not about to defend the larger criminal justice or mental health systems across Missouri or the country. In fact, the acute inadequacies of those systems directly contribute to the below par conditions at MSI. However, I also want to point out inaccuracies that have been making the rounds in the last week about what leads people to be detained at MSI, because there should be some facts we can agree on before moving towards improving the situation at MSI.

Since I've been on the Board of Aldermen, I have been an advocate for retro-fitting the un-airconditioned parts of the building, as well as funding a variety of accumulated deferred maintenance at the building that has built up over time.  The best chance for finding the money for all of these improvements in recent history was the 2015 bond proposal. I was on the Capital Committee at the time, which spent 2 years reviewing a wide and deep list of City infrastructure needs. St. Louis government is not in good financial shape. Large expenses are hard to fund. and the reality is that A/C has never made the cut since the building was opened in 1966. I wanted A/C for the whole building as part of a bond issue in 2015. Unfortunately voters did not approve the bond, including $30.5 million for corrections, which would have made money available today to make a wide variety of improvements to the building, including A/C and plumbing.

What is true is that once people are at MSI, its the City's (and by City I mean the part of the City that works under the mayor) responsibility to provide an adequate level of care for people. I do not believe we generally reach that level at MSI for men, despite the efforts of an under-staffed correctional department. But here is what's also true: The City has almost no control over how many people are at MSI, or how long they stay there. The length of someone's stay is determined primarily by the Circuit Attorney and judge, but also by the individual charged with the crime themselves, and often the state public defender's office. Every delay or continuance in a case adds length to a pre-trial stay and expense to the city.

Almost no one is in MSI because of a city charge (an ordinance violation). People there have been charged with a state level crime (felonies and misdemeanors) by Kim Gardner's office, and prior to her by Jennifer Joyce's office. While the police department obviously gathers evidence in most criminal cases, the Circuit Attorney ultimately has the discretion to charge or not charge any case. "City Hall" also have no control over what bail is set. The Circuit Attorney's Office requests bail and judges assign bail.

An often repeated statement has been that 98% of people in the city's two jails are pre-trial. This isn't an inaccurate statement. The majority are pretrial. A small number are serving a sentence, and others are there for probation and parole violations. Probation and parole violations are not really pre-trial actions. They are directly related to an existing conviction or guilty plea, and resulting sentence.

About 75 to 80% of people at the two jails are actually pre-trial. Of those who are pre-trial, 97% are charged by the Circuit Attorney's with felonies. Some of these people, as advocates claim, are at MSI because of non-violent offenses like drug possession, larceny, theft, fraud, etc. Others are charged with more serious violent felonies like manslaughter, aggravated assault and gun charges - although people charged with violent crimes like murder and rape are more likely to be confined at the Justice Center downtown.

If you are awaiting trial at either location, you are likely to either be charged with a serious or violent crime, or are poor and unable to afford bail for lesser charges. What's important about this is to recognize what is landing people in jail pre-trial. If you believe pre-trial detention compounds all the likely problems in a non-violent suspects life, and most people do believe that at this point, then how do we avoid pre-trial detention for appropriate cases?

A few things would go a long way to reducing the problem. The number one thing by far is that the public defender's office in Missouri have enough funding to represent people who need a public defender. Missouri, under both democratic and republican governors, and democratic and republican state legislatures, has woefully under funded the office. Its inadequate, it leads to longer waits pre-trial, and at its worst, it violates defendant's constitutional right to adequate representation. The resultant delays caused by an under supply of public defenders increases the population at MSI. The City is not the entity that funds public defenders. The state MUST do better.

The next thing is that the St. Louis judicial system should pilot eliminating cash bail in some cases. But that is also largely not work that happens at "City Hall". City Hall doesn't request bail or determine bail. That work needs to happen between the Circuit Attorney and Judiciary. For some kinds of cases and charges, a system other than cash-bail could be developed.  

Third, efforts to establish charitable funds to pay bail for low-income people facing non-violent charges should continue. The amount required in the most sympathetic cases is often very small. A full time charitable effort could likely reduce the population at MSI by 20% for a modest amount of money. But its important to know that once a person has been charged with a crime and does not pay bail, "the City" generally can't legally release them until they pay bail or the case is resolved. This is a generous region. There is ample space for the charitable community to help people facing non-violent charges, and by doing so improve the living conditions of others facing more serious charges.

Fourth, regardless of what courts, judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys do - the City needs to better fund maintenance at MSI. The City needs to end the "out of sight, out of mind" mentality that has characterized other administration's approach to maintenance.

Contrary to many claims in the last two weeks, the City largely does not want people at MSI if there is an alternative. We have an obligation to hold people facing state charges, but the state does not compensate us the amount it costs to house people awaiting trial. The more people at MSI - the more it costs the City, both from state under payments and in staff required to run the facility. That means there is an alignment in desires between the activist and reform community and "City Hall" to reduce the population a MSI. A smaller population there would make it much easier to improve the housing conditions for the people that are there.

On the other hand, what has also been sadly missing in the recent conversation is any attention to victims. While there are certainly people awaiting trial at MSI that do not pose any particular danger if they were released, there are others that pose a clear danger. Victims of crimes like sexual violence and domestic assault often take great risks to themselves in order to provide evidence of a crimes that allow a prosecution. Victims can live in great fear and real danger pre-trial, especially if an alleged perpetrator is not detained. While as of this writing we don't have an up to date snap shot of all the charges people face at MSI, we should recognize many of those are serious charges, with real victims who live in our community, and whose lives have been damaged by the crimes committed. The criminal justice system can be hard on victims, we can't ignore that while trying to improve the system for those awaiting trial.

Is MSI a good facility? No. Is it a facility that largely continues to exist because the state does a poor job with mental health, Medicaid, public defenders, and substance abuse? Yes. The City, who as a government is not in good financial shape, is picking up the slack for an indifferent state.

Is the City equipped to fix the myriad problems with the criminal justice system in Missouri? No. Are we already trying to reduce the population at MSI? Yes. There is not one solution to this. Improvement will require the cooperation of judges, Circuit Attorney, City Hall, and ideally an end to the indifference the state generally shows us. We have new office holders who are likely more interested than their predecessors in engaging with the issue. The focus should be on each party working on things within their control to improve the situation. The results people want to see - the impact people want to make - will come much faster if people set aside narrow political agendas and personal credit to focus on solutions.

The Lesson of the MLS Vote

There will be many post-mortems after Proposition 2, which would have committed the City of St. Louis to building a soccer stadium and spending over $100M during the course of 30 years. Here's mine. This post isn't about what voters should or shouldn't have done. Its just about what they did, and more importantly, why.

The failure of Prop 2 to pass does not have much to do with soccer. My sense was that voters generally though it might be "nice" to have an MLS team, but it wasn't essential either way. But the ongoing hangover from the Rams saga (not, in fact, the Rams leaving. But the sad, cynical, and financially negligent way certain members of local government begged and pleaded with the NFL to make them stay) is what meant this soccer vote would have a stiff headwind that never abated.

When you ask voters to raise taxes for "wants" like a soccer stadium (and lets face it, a "want" that is a fairly narrow special interest) you rely on voters trusting their local government to be sure the proposal is responsible. It takes political capital to pass these things, and after the NFL stadium fiasco, that capital was gone.

Recall that St. Louis taxpayers, just two years ago, were being asked to build the NFL and a billionaire owner, a new football palace when the last one we built wasn't even paid off yet. Then recall that proponents of this plan conspired with the mayor's office to litigate away the voters ability to have the final say on the plan via a referendum. Then recall that just like this MLS stadium, St. Louis County taxpayers wouldn't have to participate financially. It was just on us, a city still struggling with 60 years of population decline, to pay for a plan that was, as a friend put it, "financial pornography." Voters got their say on the Mayor's office approach to the NFL yesterday, they just got it with the MLS vote.

When a past government agreed to one of the worst professional sports leases in history after building the Dome, they paid little attention to the people who would be left cleaning up the mess 25 years later. Well here we are, we are those people. The terrible deals struck in the past inform the decisions people make today.

If certain influential St. Louisans wanted an MLS team, the strategy in 2015 should have been this: We're cutting our losses with the NFL. We're not spending another dime there, and we're applying our efforts to MLS. That would have taken some political courage, but it also would have avoided the very, very sour taste the NFL experience left with voters. I know the people behind the MLS effort simply do not understand how angry many residents are with the money wasted on the NFL and backroom scheme to avoid a referendum. The political capital to pass an MLS vote was squandered on the NFL.

It has to be noted that Prop 2 faired the worst of all the questions on the ballot. Voters supported a higher sales tax for better transit and other local services. They supported (although not at the 2/3rds level required to pass) a higher property tax to help save vacant buildings. We supported a property tax increase last year for school funding. And voters in St. Louis County supported by a huge margin more money for police. The obvious conclusion is that people support funding the basic needs in their community. They want good services. They want a safer place to live. They want investment in basic infrastructure, and they are willing to pay for it. But efforts to fund two stadiums in two years seem woefully out of touch to voters living in some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the country. You can hear people saying, "This again? Give me a break."

But its also abundantly clear that residents in the City of St. Louis are aware that regional amenities require regional funding efforts. If we can't do it regionally, there will be many things in the future we just can't do. End of story. If residents of St. Louis County wanted an MLS team, they should have worked politically to participate in funding it. They didn't, and that's on them. Our region can provide better, more equitable services and amenities to all its residents. But we have to do it together. There literally is no other way. And if we don't, there will be other "failures" or "missed opportunities" in the future. The only way forward for our region is to act like one.

The Antonio French Era at City Hall

When the new legislative session starts for aldermen on April 18th, Antonio French won't be representing the 21st ward. For me, the Board of Aldermen will seem like a very different place. In the week since the primary for mayor, French's campaign has been disparaged by both the "progressive" wing of local politics and by some parts of local black media, for harming Tishaura Jones' shot at winning the election. He doesn't need me (or probably even want me) to defend him, but I will anyway.

For the more outspoken cadre of aldermen currently in office (including me) French defined what being an alderman was, and provided a reason to want this job. French  set the standard for turning a position that can be as utterly irrelevant as alderman into a meaningful and sometimes compelling platform for social, cultural, and political commentary and policy. He's been the most consistently interesting voice in local politics on a number of issues for the past decade.  When I was elected in 2011, he was one of the few people that didn't seem to think I was irrelevant. The only way to become a good alderman is to learn on the job, but the tips he gave me were accurate.

People who are frustrated with him today for harming another black candidate's shot at becoming mayor should remember that French was completely instrumental in helping Lewis Reed become the first black President of the Board of Aldermen in 2007. I don't remember if I told him, or just thought this during the 2013 mayoral election, but he should have been the candidate taking on Slay, not Reed. French's arguments were clear and incisive, and his ability to communicate to a wide audience was unsurpassed in local politics. But instead of grabbing for the brass ring in 2013, he was a loyal lieutenant for Reed. For some reason people think Slay won easily, but that is anything but the case. Slay pulled out all the stops to win that election 54 - 44. Perhaps at the time Reed had more city-wide name recognition, but I still contend French could have pushed Slay harder, and delivered a more coherent argument on why voters should change course. French compared Reed to Newark mayor Cory Booker, but the obvious reality was that French himself was much more like the energetic and media savvy Booker.

Most baffling in the recent criticism of French is the idea that he isn't, "for the people". French represented one of the lowest income areas of St. Louis, and he used every tool available at City Hall (which usually isn't much) to deliver better services for his community. He consistently pissed off almost everyone in the process. But on a shoestring budget of grants and charity, he cobbled together after school programs for the neediest kids, and help for the poorest seniors. He managed Halloween safe zones so children could Trick or Treat. He paid out of his own campaign funds to run a summer concert series in O'Fallon Park. He got the poorest kids almost free access to the O'Fallon Rec Center. He relentlessly tried to make his community visible, specific, and important to a region that was indifferent or oblivious to it.

Being alderman can be fairly taxing, and immensely frustrating, in any part of St. Louis. It's a much more difficult job in areas with the highest crime and poverty. Local politics is sometimes lumped in with national politics, but it's nothing like it. Local politics is your neighbor resenting you for the building code citation they got. It's someone you know asking you how they can avoid their home getting foreclosed on. It's hearing there was a shooting and worrying you know the victim. It's very personal. I saw French pour himself into it, try everything, and I saw the frustration grow with each passing year. French did veer into a kind of reflexive, automatic distrust of Slay. He assigned malice to actions that I might have called indifferent or tone-deaf. And he alienated people who didn't see things that way. But I can see why he felt that way.

One public example was in 2014. As the murder rate climbed, Police Chief Dotson utilized a "rap" video produced by two white Washington University students to explain that, actually, the highest murder rate in the country was just a statistical problem, rather than a human tragedy. If  the same violence was in my neighborhood, I would have lost all remaining patience too. I'm still embarrassed that a "cute" video by college kids was used to minimize the death of so many black residents. This dynamic played out over and over again in small ways and large.

French has been hammered for things (mostly cherry-picked) like not caring about people's wages, not opposing developer subsidies hard enough, and not "really" caring about community issues post-Ferguson. But the last 8 years show otherwise. French was all over Paul McKee in 2009, accurately predicting the coming blunders. He has been the most relentless advocate for minority hiring on public or subsidized projects. And he was talking about "Ferguson" issues well before 2014: Effective community policing, local courts, the portrayal of black people and communities by local media, institutional racism, the enormous toll poverty exacts from children, and more. But he's usually had a pragmatic streak about what local government could actually do, something that has gone very much out of vogue lately. He was willing to make politically bad decisions from time to time if he believed it was better for his constituents.

French got very unlucky when Clinton did not win the presidency. His early association with her campaign would have provided him with more institutional support and substantially more money to campaign for his mayoral bid. He would have looked much more like a front-runner from the early going, and could have had some national figures singing his praises. Instead, he mostly had to go it alone. But he was committed - he was fed up with his current position and ready for a larger platform.

I have become a grumpier person, and he's become a more difficult person in the last six years, so unfortunately I can't call him a friend. But I'm glad to say I was his colleague. In an only slightly different world French would be mayor today.  Perhaps his career could have taken the trajectory of Dick Gephardt's, another former alderman. He is an entrepreneurial person who can be very successful outside of politics, but I hope there's space for him in public service again. In any case, for me, the defining personality of my time at City Hall is gone for now. It would be travesty if the narrative of the last week is what he's remembered for.

My Vote: Lyda Krewson for Mayor

I do not relish endorsements, especially this time. As an alderman, the reality is if you endorse incorrectly, and your candidate loses, you and your ward can very well be punished by the new mayor.

This is a good field of candidates, I know all of them. Most have real records and are serious and committed people. The usual endorsement goes something like: "My candidate is ideal and is the only one suited to solve our problems. The other candidates are crooked, ugly liars who will mean sure disaster." Well, I don't like to do that kind of endorsement.

But after thinking about this for literally months, thinking about which candidate is most suited for the job, weighing their pluses and minuses, probably overanalyzing some parts of their records, my last thought was this: Which of these people has made me a better alderman and a better representative for St. Louis? Which of these people respects and values my opinion? Which person can I count on to follow through when I need help delivering services? That person is Lyda Krewson, with an honorable mention to Antonio French.

First, credit where credit is due, French is a unique person. St. Louis government is much better for having him a part of it, and will be worse if he's no longer in office. There's no one (sadly including me) who can make an argument as clearly and compellingly as he can. He is usually right, and when I disagree with him, I have to think hard about why, because his arguments are convincing. He works hard, he's extremely smart, he knows St. Louis, and the reality is that alderman is an office too small for what he could accomplish with a real infrastructure around him. Some of the unflattering stories about him are the result of him trying too hard, trying to accomplish things on a shoestring budget with a completely indifferent mayor's office. But does he value my opinion? No, not really.

I respect Lyda Krewson for her work ethic, her toughness, her commitment, her intelligence, and her patience. Lyda is not a loud person. She is not a firebrand the way some other candidates can be, but she is good at connecting people, managing personalities, reaching out, and finding a way forward. She knows how to combine public and private funding to get things done. She may disagree with you, but she does not burn bridges. While that doesn't make headlines, in the long run its important for an effective leader. And Lyda is not about Lyda. She is not one to sing her own praises, or complain about her own problems.

The mayor, directly or indirectly, is responsible for 6,000 city employees. That reality has been lacking from the coverage of this mayoral contest. Who is ready to take on that substantial challenge and build a more responsive, nimble city workforce? I think Krewson is. That begins with budgets. Krewson's expertise as a CPA puts her in the best position to take on the City's generally dreary budget forecast. Evolving the City's budget to make more room for essential departments, and to pay employees in those departments a competitive salary, is essential to delivering the best service to St. Louis residents.

I know I am a little out of step with some of my friends who are picking other candidates. That doesn't bother me. What I do bristle at is the caricature some have painted of Krewson. I know its not based on any actual experience with her. One thing it has done is show how she handles criticism - she stays above it, she focuses on the work she needs to do. Being mayor is not for the faint of heart in St. Louis. You had better be ready to deal with criticism. An extended public media battle about who has been fair to you and who hasn't is quite frankly below the office. Just get on with the work. I know that's the type of personality she has - and I know she'll bring that quality to the office.

I have worked with or around all of these candidates for six years, and by far Lyda has been the most helpful to me, the most interested in what I had to say, the most willing to discuss something, and the most reliable and straightforward with her commitments.

No one 'deserves' the title of mayor. But Krewson's decades of experience and dedication to this City mean she has earned it as much, or more, than anyone else. She will be the most effective mayor from day one, and when I think she needs a push to pursue change more urgently, I believe she won't ignore my opinion. When she can help me get something done, I know she'll be there. I can't say that about the other candidates.

I think its perfectly fitting that a person who has seen both the best and worst of St. Louis should finally become our first female mayor.

My Position on an MLS Stadium

On Friday, on the radio and online, many people accused myself and Antonio French of preventing a vote on one portion of a tax increase to fund construction of an MLS stadium. Principal among those was Alderman Steve Conway, who chairs the Ways & Means Committee. Some people asked me, “Why did you block a vote, why did you leave the meeting.” Steve Conway is completely manipulating the narrative. Some people might call that lying.

Here’s what really happened on Thursday, as well as additional facts the public should know about this proposal:

There are 9 members of the Ways & Means Committee. To pass a bill requires a majority vote of a quorum. A quorum is 5 members. There were 8 members there for most of a hearing that was in excess of six hours. (Conway actually left numerous times) Near the end of the meeting, Steve Conway called for a vote. Conway said, “I move that we pass Board Bill 226,”. There was a second to the motion. A few minutes of conversation followed, then, just before the vote began, Conway said, “I withdraw my motion.” He realized, almost too late, that he had counted incorrectly and did not have the votes to pass the bill out of committee. The vote would have been 4 to 4, which is not a passing vote. I was there, in the room, ready to vote.

So who prevented a vote from happening? Steve Conway did. What did he do then? He wanted to continue to extend the meeting, knowing that more than one member of the committee had other obligations. The reality is most meetings are not 6+ hours long, and it would not be unusual at all to have a committee meeting at 9am and have another obligation at 3 or 4pm. Like, for instance, picking up a child from school. Conway, knowing that myself, Chris Carter, and Antonio French all have small children, wanted to delay until one of us was forced to leave the room, and he could pass the bill 4 to 3.

So, why is there even a rush? People have been working on an idea to bring an MLS team to St. Louis for years. And they waited until literally the last possible day to have a hearing on the bill. Even with a good bill, that’s a terrible strategy.

What do you need to know about this bill? First of all, this bill is only ONE PART of a series of bills that would need to pass in order for the City to enter into an agreement to pay for, build, and own an MLS stadium. Other bills contain essential information, like an outline of the lease terms, other financial incentives, and a commitment in writing of what the owners need to do. These bills were not even introduced until the day after the Thursday hearing, and no one on the committee had seen them.

Members of the committee were being asked to vote on an incomplete, inadequate and irresponsible proposal, which the mayor’s office intentionally withheld essential information about. Taking a vote on Thursday would have been utterly reckless.

At both the Thusday meeting, and in a Friday interview, Steve Conway made the following claim, “This project costs us nothing.” Hold on Steve. The project requires the City to:

Pass a tax increase on businesses to fund a still unidentified portion of the stadium, but in excess of $60 million.

Other bills require the City to:

Rebate sales taxes to the team.

Eliminate the 5% tax on tickets.

Pay Paul McKee 50% of the tax revenue the stadium generates. (Yes, as incredible, and insane as this sounds, its true)

And likely, as is our experience with every other stadium, pay substantial amounts to upgrade the stadium 20 or 25 years down the road.

Even the most basic level of analysis shows this is not “nothing” - its likely to grow to well over $100 million, and a degree of scrutiny is required from elected officials. Why should Paul McKee receive tax money from a stadium he did nothing to facilitate, while the City pays to build it?

What is not required:

Any payments or ticket taxes from the 85% of ticket buyers who aren’t from the City of St. Louis.

Any payment from St. Louis County, or any other County in the region.

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I’m not going to delve too deep into the other things that an increase in the Use Tax could be spent on, but the increase equates to an annual $2,800 raise for every police officer the City employs - something that people keep saying is essential to retaining our police force.

Now, even with all the information above, there’s still a bill I would vote for. But it has to do this:

Charge ticket buyers the 5% tax the law would normally require. Use that money to help pay the “City’s portion” of the stadium cost.

Sell seat licenses in advance. (Much like NFL teams do)

Cut Paul McKee out completely. Use that tax revenue to also fund the City’s portion of the stadium.

Charge higher sales taxes on products at the stadium, use that money to fund the stadium.

The team headquarters need to be located in the City, so we can collect the earnings tax on a greater portion of the team’s payroll.

The principle is that the the cost needs to be borne, to the extent possible, by the people that use the stadium. This is a basic idea, not radical in any way. Limit the City’s exposure and cost. Why should businesses in St. Louis pay a higher tax to support the entertainment of residents of St. Charles?

I was not elected to rubber stamp bad proposals for a City that is already on the financial brink. I was not elected to rubber stamp proposals with important details intentionally withheld. While Twitter may want my head, when I walk into a neighborhood meeting, my constituents are on my side. They are sick of bad deals, and they do not trust City Hall to prioritize their interests.

The MLS ownership group can still get this done. And they can even do it without a public vote - they’re just going to have to trim costs from the stadium and make soccer fans contribute to paying for construction. We’re a small City. We have major financial problems. We can’t afford more bad deals crammed though without any scrutiny.

 

 

 

It Bends Towards Justice

"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." is one of President Obama's favorite quotes. He attributes it to Martin Luther King Jr. - King had used the phrase in a speech to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1967. King's usage was a distillation of a longer passage by Theodore Parker, an extremely politically active Boston minister and advocate for the end of slavery. In 1850 Parker wrote:

"I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice."

The combination of Parker's life, and that passage, are an essay in the urgency of progress tempered with the reality of patience. Parker organized and successfully fought against the return of people who had escaped slavery back to the south. He sheltered people being sought by slaveowners in his home and church. He was fully engaged in the struggle for abolition, but the quote above makes clear while he had faith in the ultimate outcome, he knew any person cannot see even what the immediate future holds. We need faith that the future conscience of society will move towards the incorporation of all people fully into the cultural fold, but we also need the impatience to do something now.

Parker worked to care for the people around him, but he also worked hard to persuade the broader society and bring them to his side. But Parker did not live to see the end of slavery, though his writing helped push the country to that point. He died in 1860. "My eye reaches but little ways."

I wanted to mention that, because for many of us, this week is going to be an incredibly discouraging time. But history is going to be kind to President Obama. Americans will place Obama clearly in the upper echelon of leaders our country. An ethical man fully engaged in the important questions of his day, but aware of the limitations of any moment, or any presidency.

The election of any single person to the presidency is incredibly improbable, but Obama's presidential improbability was imbued by his transcendence of a racial barrier many, many Americans thought they would never live to see. Obama is a hero because he lived the quintessential American Dream. He was a person of humble beginnings who worked his way to the top. But he's also a hero for giving so many people in this country hope, and a sense of validation. Finally, the country is open enough to give a broader swath of Americans a chance to lead. Finally, thank god. Much of the country filled with pride during his election, and he lived up to the expectations placed on his shoulders.

But Obama was a good president as well. He was incredibly consistent. He was ethical. And his policies and leadership helped the country emerge from a devastating recession and achieve an historic level of stability. Many Americans credit the Affordable Care Act with literally saving their lives. And if not their lives, then their home, their own financial situation, their family's ability to take care of itself. Perhaps one of the faults of his presidency has been his reluctance to point to, celebrate, and defend his own achievements.

Social media and Obama's presidency coincided. History should see him first as the master of the medium, but in the end as its victim. A tool he used to win an improbable first presidential primary eventually spawned an industry of disinformation. He's endured 8 years of constant politically or racially motivated fabrications, including most famously by his successor. The tragedy of our time was the media's obsession with treating "controversial statements" by celebrities as deserving of so much of our attention. In today's environment Parker's moral clarity would have been ignored for the few clicks it generated.

But Obama came through it with his dignity and character intact. He should be more a hero now than he was the day he was elected. All people are flawed - but aside from leading a country during war, what more of a president can we ask for than was asked of Obama? He came to St. Louis in 2008 during the campaign, and after the rally my wife was able to shake his hand on the rope line. I wish I could shake his hand now.

So, from one American to another: Thank you. The possibilities of this country are open to more people than they were 8 years ago. I have no doubt, in the long run, the arc of this country's opinion of Barack Obama will bend towards appreciation. Actually - I don't think it will take long at all.

My Hopes for the Next Mayor

When the burdens of the presidency seem unusually heavy, I always remind myself it could be worse. I could be a mayor.
— President Lyndon Johnson

The next mayor will assume leadership of a City with a long list of challenges, but without a magic wand. The frustration of any St. Louis mayor is many of the challenges St. Louis faces are bigger than the City. They are regional problems, but our region lacks any regional level of government to tackle them. That said, there are things that the mayor can do. Things within reach that will make local government more effective, useful, and less frustrating for residents. The next mayor should start by going back to the basics and focus on managing St. Louis government.

St. Louis enters a new phase with an uncertain relationship to state government. Republicans can now enact any measure they see fit without the check of a governor's veto. The next mayor of St. Louis needs to forge a strong relationship with the mayor of Kansas City in order to work to preserve essential revenue sources for the state's two major cities. First of all, both need to make a forceful argument for retaining the earnings tax is. If the state moves to eliminate the earnings tax for St. Louis and Kansas City, we'll end up with the two largest cities in bankruptcy, which will be a disaster for the entire state. The next mayor needs to be clear: There is no alternative to the earnings tax that will keep Kansas City and St. Louis solvent.

The next mayor should reform the way the City plans and delivers public works projects. In most places the local Public Works or Transportation Departments have primary responsibility for planning and managing projects ranging from park improvements to paving. In St. Louis aldermen continue to play an outsized role not just in budgeting for projects, but in originating what improvements are made. 28 individual anemic planning processes don't serve residents well. We need our Public Works and Streets Departments to take a larger role in identifying, planning, and explaining what projects we're doing and why. Rather than a long list of examples, here's just one: We don't even know which streets we're repaving next year. There's no list. Its public works malpractice.

Police Department: At this point its no secret morale within the Police Dept. is low, and we're struggling to recruit, hire, and retain an adequate number of police officers. Current officers are overworked, working too many overtime hours, and responding to too many calls because there's simply too much work for the number of officers that are employed. The area I frequently point to is homicide detectives. We probably need 50% more people working in that position. Given our homicide rate, you'd think we would have prioritized that. We haven't. Its time we did. We will likely need more revenue to pay for the number of police officers we need - but what other choice do we have?

We need an Apollo Mission-like focus on crime. You can't correct a problem until you admit its there. For years leadership chose to minimize the enormous public safety problem in St. Louis. That choice meant we have spent years NOT prioritizing improving safety and reducing crime. From allowing people to get a busy signal when they dial 911, to losing connections to witnesses and informants in neighborhoods, to never developing a city-wide camera program, we've just done maintenance on the problem. If the region can raise over $200 million in private contributions for the Arch Grounds and Museum, we could also focus the charitable community on crime prevention. We have to. While we've built two world-class parks (Forest Park and the Gateway Arch), city services and public safety have become worse just a few miles away. We have to change that.

Traffic Safety: In the 10 years that the Mayor refused to allow a policy that would permit things like raised crosswalks and speed tables to be installed in St. Louis, Chicago installed 10,000, and residents want more. In the same time alderman in St. Louis received about 1,000,000 complaints about cars speeding through neighborhoods. Residents are sick of speeding. They see it for what it is, a dangerous habit that makes kids less safe and neighborhoods less livable. The next mayor should get serious about slowing people down. We'll never have enough police to do it, we need to build traffic calming that gets the job done.

City's fiscal situation: There are few cities swimming in cash, and the tendency is for people to think the financial situation is bad everywhere. In St. Louis our financial situation has taken a marked turn for the worse the last five years. Our credit rating has fallen. Our cash reserves are too low. We have enormous unfunded liabilities, we can't pay certain categories of job enough to adequately recruit (like police officers) and our population continues to decline (albeit at a much reduced rate) so the longer term outlook for our tax base is unsteady. A municipal bankruptcy in St. Louis would be chaotic and catastrophic. The next mayor needs to guard revenue sources, spend strategically, and invest in salaries and equipment for essential services like the Police Department and Refuse. We need to be especially conservative about adding new long-term liabilities (ahem, City-owned soccer stadiums) that cost more than they deliver in tax revenue.

While the Mayor's Office has only limited influence over the City's school system, they do have more influence over charter schools. What parents are looking for is continuity throughout the system. Charters that only serve a limited number of grades are not making the impact they could. The same is true for many families in the SLPS system. The transitions from elementary to middle school, and middle to high school are more uncertain than they could be. There is much more choice in the system than a decade ago, but parents also want predictability and continuity over the course of a student's school career.

Finally, we need to intentionally refocus on neighborhoods outside the central corridor. We need to improve livability for residents, north and south, living in what I call the "normal" neighborhoods of St. Louis. Neighborhoods that are primarily single family and two family, that are relatively stable, and are not experiencing dramatic changes or large developments like in the central corridor. The central corridor has simply eaten up way more brain-power in City Hall than Holly Hills has, for instance. We need to think more clearly about what a resident's experience with local government is, and how to improve service. We are not succeeding as a city if we have a great Gateway Arch for tourists, but residents aren't getting their trash picked up. There are no shortage of ideas on how to do this - and many of them cost almost nothing. They are simply about thinking about the experience of living in St. Louis from a resident's perspective, and devoting people to working to improve that. What I've seen, first hand, is too frequently that isn't the case today. While we can't abandon efforts at redevelopment, we need to constantly remind the next mayor that the people living here today must be the number one priority. If we are a great place for current residents to live, we don't have to worry about attracting new people, it will happen naturally. To whoever wins, good luck!

Mary Pat Carl for Circuit Attorney

On August 2nd, St. Louis will elect a new Circuit Attorney, to succeed Jennifer Joyce, who has served in the office for 16 years. The Circuit Attorney is the City’s head prosecutor for serious crimes.

Four candidates are running. They all have careers dedicated to public service and each has their strengths. This endorsement isn’t meant to take anything away from any of them. From my perspective, Mary Pat Carl is the best choice for the office.

Prosecutor is perhaps the most difficult job in local government. The office interacts with both perpetrators and victims of the most violent crimes. The stakes are high for both. The City's top prosecutor needs a deep ethical commitment to using the power of the office fairly, which I know she has.

The City’s Circuit Attorney needs to be able to recruit, retain, and manage a quality team of attorneys to prosecute violent offenders while helping victims and their families seek a degree of justice after a crime. The CA also needs to be able to communicate with the public about what the office does and why it can or can’t prosecute a case.

Mary Pat Carl simply has, by far, the most prosecutorial experience of any candidate in the race. She’s prosecuted more cases, including homicides and crimes against children, than the other candidates. She’s been involved with more families of victims, and more witnesses to violent crimes. She’s also managed other prosecutors, a key component of the job, which the other candidates haven’t done. I’ve seen her at work, and I can testify that she does a good job.

Earlier this year, she was the lead prosecutor in the homicide of Scott Knopfel, a Clifton Heights resident. Beyond the courtroom, she was a resource to his family and professional when dealing with the media. Those are key components to the role of Circuit Attorney.

Sadly, St. Louis is in the midst of an increase in violent crimes. Its a difficult time to be a prosecutor. The challenge of finding willing witnesses, and sometimes, keeping them safe, is of paramount importance to being able to prosecute people who maim and kill others in our city. Ms. Carl instituted homicide prosecutors responding to the scene after a murder, in an effort to reach witnesses that may not be willing to speak to the police. I know she takes seriously the idea that we need to do much more to help witnesses interact with both the police and the prosecutor's office. If she is Circuit Attorney, I know we’ll see more efforts to make the office more visible and accessible within the community.

People I know who’ve worked closely with her over the years tell me she’s ready for the job on day one. I agree. I’ll be voting for her on August 2nd.

Prosecutor Mary Pat Carl. Image via www.stlpublicradio.org

Prosecutor Mary Pat Carl. Image via www.stlpublicradio.org

 

 

St. Louis Needs Campaign Contribution Limits

With the demise of campaign contribution limits in Missouri law in 2008, contribution limits in local elections also disappeared. Eight years later nothing has changed, and unlimited contributions continue to be allowed in local elections in St. Louis. Despite the fact that large donors distort local elections, and can easily drown out the voices of regular voters, St. Louis currently stands virtually alone among cities by not capping what an individual or corporation can contribute.

The result is an “anything goes” scenario, where a single donor, or handful of donors, can potentially tilt the playing field in any election. Many St. Louisans are surprised to learn there are no limits to how much can be contributed to a candidate in a local election. While running a campaign takes money, St. Louis residents want common sense limits that encourage candidates to rely on a broad base of support, not a single donor.

There is no question that huge donations to politicians erode the confidence of residents that local government is looking out for their best interests, and alienate regular people from participating in local elections.

Kansas City was quick to enact contribution limits in 2010 after state level limits were repealed, and it’s worked. Today’s proposal allows candidates to raise sufficient money to run a campaign, while also enacting reasonable, common sense limits. The proposed limits are $10,000 per election cycle for all city office holders.

Additional legislation would remove political lobbyists from the floor of the Board of Aldermen chambers during meetings. Regardless of how the custom of allowing lobbyists such close proximity to aldermen during meetings developed, it’s time to change it. Other bodies, like the Missouri House and Senate, and the St. Louis County Council, keep lobbyists away from the desks of members.

It’s time for St. Louis to follow suit. Our customs are reflections of our institutional values. Today, our custom keeps lobbyists closest to members of the Board of Aldermen, while regular voters watch from a gallery. Can this policy be defended? While every voice is important in local government, and lobbyists certainly have a role in representing groups, there’s no reason paid lobbyists should be front and center at every meeting of the Board of Aldermen.

Taken together, these measures will help build confidence in local government.