Is City-Council Re-marriage Possible After The Great Divorce? Better Together Hopes So
By Tom Anselm
It was a time just after the great bloodletting know as The Civil War that our region had it’s own separation of sorts, though without the mayhem and loss of life. Called “The Great Divorce”, the citizens of the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County voted to go their own ways, politically speaking.
A lot has been said that there was some fraud involved in the vote, perpetrated by unknown powers who made sure the City didn’t get the short end of the stick, that being stuck with the costs of the County. Imagine that, powerbrokers deciding an election… how could that be. Anyway, in 1876, the city ended officially at Skinker Boulevard, and the rest is history.
The county grew and prospered, and in 1930 there was an attempt to reconcile. But alas, it was not to be. Nor was it to happen in 1950 during another move to get the political entities to play nice together.
So now as a region we are seeing yet another attempt to join hands, City and County. An organization called Better Together is gathering data and doing studies and promoting the results in an attempt, they say, to present the facts in a way that is not analyzed but merely available to the public.
I recently went to their website, www.bettertogetherstl.com, and it was very interesting. Some studied-and-learned people talked about the history of the area, how the fragmentation came about, what it has meant to our area, and what might come of a rejoining of the City with the County.
It might be worth your while to check it out, if this is up your alley. It is no coincidence that this is coinciding nicely with the 250th anniversary of Pierre Laclede and his soon-to-be stepson, Auguste Chouteou, landing on the western bluffs of the Mississippi just south of the confluence of this great river with the Missouri River. That was 25 years ago this past weekend, but 250th events will continue all year.
From that day on, St. Louis grew to be the fourth largest city in the United States, the gateway to the west before it was officially The Gateway to the West, and the home of the world-famous St. Louis Cardinals. (Hey, spring training just started, so cut me some slack here.)
But like many large industrial towns, times have been hard, and our ranking and prestige has slipped. World headquarters have moved out, the actual city is struggling to renew itself, and suburban sprawl is the new reality. There are some 90 small municipalities in our general area, not counting St. Charles and Jefferson County, or the near East Side. Then it jumps to 115, with the City included. Some say there are way too many police chiefs, mayors and city councils in this mix. Way too little political cohesiveness. Too much competition among the biggest kids on the playground, City and County, for businesses and power. Too little cooperation has led to a climate not conducive to economic growth and relocation by major providers of jobs, they say.
Historically, our settlers wanted a local government they could be part of. Witness the original 13 colonies and how hard it was for them to finally get together. In years since people moved into our region and established their own ‘home towns’ like Florissant, Hazelwood, Black Jack, and Ferguson in North County and Webster Groves, Kirkwood, Clayton and others elsewhere. Large communities with stable housing and concerned citizens. But there are also smaller towns with one police car and a budget of a couple hundred thousand a year whose prime industry is red-light camera receipts. May be a problem here.
So perhaps these Better Together folks can lead us as a community to something that is more conducive to harmony and common sense to start off our next 250 years.
Personally, I don’t see a lot of change coming from this. Maybe the City will join the County as its own municipality, which could help the numbers in crime stats and growth possibilities. But it will take a lot of compromise and trust in government, which is in short supply in some sectors, to pull off much more than this.
Whatever comes about, it should be interesting to see how this plays out in the next few years.
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