Community Responds to Un-favorable Story, Headline

Response to the St. Louis Post Dispatch front page story on Aug., 18 with the headline “North County Suburbia in Crisis” has been a firestorm  from citizens, community leaders and top civic organizations over the past week in both print and social media.

Several letters from North County advocate leaders appeared in the Post the past week including those from Don Zykan, State Sen. Gina Walsh and an op-ed piece by former Mayor Robert Lowery Sr. pointing to the positive aspects of North County. The following is a capsule of other responses sent to The Independent News from area leaders.

Mayor Tom Schneider responded with a lengthy letter pointing out some of the unfairness of the Post Editorial and listed many good things in our area that weren’t mentioned.

Schneider said that elected officials in Florissant are “well aware the challenges we face as well as the many sprlindid attributes that make Florissant and its surrounding area a fine place to work, live and raise a family.”

Schneider writes that although the article described North County housing as being old and small, the reality is that “more than 90 percent of all residential homes in Florissant feature three or more bedrooms, at least two baths, spacious accommodations and large yards.”

Schneider acknowledges that there area problems in the housing market all over, but writes that officials in Florissant “aggressively approach the issue of vacant homes.” He also mentions a program the council is working to develop that would encourage people to buy houses in the city.           

He writes about the police department and the high safety ratings the city consistently receives. He also discusses the school districts that serve the city, Ferguson-Florissant and Hazelwood. He states that both have “excellent leadership on their boards who have chosen outstanding superintendents.”

Schneider also mentions development in the city, citing Cross Keys and the recent renovation of the former Value City site. He also mentions the new Wal-Mart and the fact that it is coming into the city without Tax Increment Financing (TIF).

The park system, community center, and golf course are other assets to the city, as well as the Valley of Flowers Festival and Fall Festival, Schneider writes.

“A recent national magazine ranked Florissant in the “Top 100 Best Places to Live,” and also the number one value to buy a home,” Schneider writes. The residents of Florissant, he said, “take inspiration from our rich heritage to focus on achieving progress for our city and surrounding communities s as we move towards an even brighter future.”

North County Incorporated (NCI) President and CEO Rebecca Zoll and Board Chair Ron McMullen also sent a letter to the post on behalf of the NCI Board of Directors. Zoll and McMullen write that the “article was troubling on many levels. It appeared the Post-Dispatch was blatantly contributing to the destabilization and decline of one portion of their service area.”

“It is interesting,” they continued, “that the people living and working every single day in this community do not feel we are ‘in crisis.’”

“Frankly, we deserved better,” Zoll and McMullen wrote, in a co-signed letter.  “While they say that they realize that North Council is struggling to overcome the foreclosure and lending crisis, so are many other areas in the county. They write about the Ferguson homeowner cited in the article who is having trouble selling her house, and asked why the reporter did not write about the fact that “one block over another family sold their home in only three days for around $150,000.”

“Where is this article did it point out that this is a great time to get a lot of house for your money?” they wrote. “There are two sides to every story; what a shame that both sides really weren’t told. In the future, we expect better from the Post.”

Zoll and McMullen also asked why the story did not mention any steps municipalities or the county are taking to recover from the housing crisis. They also asked why no mention was made of the economic growth in the area. “Where in the story,” they write, “did it mention that even in exceptionally difficult economic times nearly 2,750 well-paying jobs with benefits have been announced in North St. Louis County in just three months, with major corporations making investments totaling nearly $110 million?”

Zoll and McMullen write: “Just as easily the Post-Dispatch could have provided a more balanced article that also talked about the efforts people in our community are making to improve North County. That would have been a story which actually provided readers real and useful information. “

Hazelwood School District Supt. Grayling Tobias and Board President Cheryl Latham also weighed in with a letter.  They said that the district was “well aware of the challenges we face, as well as the many attributes that make our school district a wonderful place to work, live, and raise a family.”

Grayling and Latham point out that the district earned very high scores on the 2013 Annual Performance Report from the state. They remain fully accredited and are close to earning accredited with distinction honors.

Tobias and Latham state how several students go on to prestigious colleges and universities, many with generous scholarships.

“It would be difficult to find a community that has been more supportive than ours,” Grayling and Latham write. They state that both by voting yes on a recent bond issue and becoming engaged in the planning process for facility upgrades, district residents have worked with the school district.

“With state-of-the-art schools and a fully-accredited school district, HSD and the communities of North County are not in crisis,” Grayling and Latham write. “We are moving forward.”

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