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Local elected officials and social networking

Knowing what our elected officials are working on used to require attending monthly neighborhood meetings.  Not bad if you are free when the meetings are held and patient enough to sit through the entire meeting to hopefully get a clue what they are up to.  Not good if you care to know about more than a single ward.  How many meetings can one person reasonably attend per month just to be an informed citizen? Then add in the issue of just trying to know what meetings are held when, where and who will be there.  If you are parochial you only care about that which is within your ward — across the street doesn’t matter.  In St. Louis that means your 3.6% (1/28th) section of the city.  Many of us, however, take a broader view of issues and problems facing not just the city but the entire St. Louis region.  3.6% is not enough.

For a number of years now I’ve complained that too few of our elected officials blogged.  If you wanted to know what they were working on you had on track them down at a neighborhood meeting.  Even then you got the same old boring stuff, no real news about what they are working on.

With the rise of Twitter, the 140 character micro-blogging site, our elected officials can now easily reach those interested in knowing what they are working on.  Some of them have embraced Twitter as a way to easily communicate.

The following are elected officials from the City of St. Louis on Twitter:

The list above includes all ages, races & both genders.  It includes senior members and two elected earlier this year.  My apologies if I’ve left anyone off the list.  The use by those listed above varies.  Mayor Slay does not personally tweet. Others can go weeks between tweets.

The above is just for the City of St. Louis.  Our region includes hundreds of units of government.  St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley is also on Twitter.  But what about members of the St. Louis County Council?  Hundreds of mayors in the region? Heads of other counties in our 16-county region?  Newly elected State Senator Joe Keaveny is on Twitter.

I started this post a couple months ago.  Since then Twitter has added a lists feature.  So for this post I created a list with elected officials that represent part of the St. Louis region.  Right now the list has 20 persons from both sides of the river.  You can subscribe to the entire list or pick and chose.  If you know of others that should be on the list let me know.

With only 20 on this list this means that most of our elected officials are not on Twitter.  Many of you are probably not either.  Not everyone needs to follow every official.  What is important is that they are putting out ideas and asking for feedback.  The other day I sent feedback to Lt. Gov Peter Kinder.  I’ve sent a message or two to Senator Claire McCaskill as well as numerous local aldermen. With the local press following them as well you are likely to get better reporting.

If you go to your ward/neighborhood meetings keep doing so.    But I’m interested in the entire region.

UPDATE 11/13/09 7:50am: Just got word that Mayor Slay does do some personal tweeting – those with #fgs at the end. Good to know.

– Steve Patterson


Readers want change at the St. Louis Board of Aldermen

The poll last week received responses from a little more than 6% of the visitors to the site (174/2,848).  Of those that responded the message is very clear: the status quo is not good enough.

Q: St. Louis City has 28 wards. Many think the number should be reduced. How many is right?

  • 8-10: 37 (21%)
  • 14-16: 37 (21%)
  • Keep the existing 28 wards: 19 (11%)
  • Mix of ward, city-wide: 18 (10%)
  • 11-13: 18 (10%)
  • 5-7: 16 (9%)
  • No wards, all city-wide: 11 (6%)
  • 20-22: 8 (5%)
  • 17-19: 8 (5%)
  • Increase to more than 28: 2 (1%)
  • 23-25 0 (0%)
  • 26-27 0 (0%)
  • 2-4 0 (0%)

Only 12% picked keeping the number of wards the same (11%) or higher (1%).  The other 88% of respondents all think 28 wards are too many for the City of St. Louis.  Ten percent, including me, voted for a mix of ward & city-wide representation.  The two biggest groups think a significant reduction in the number of wards with 8-10 and 14-16 each receiving 21% of the votes.

The question I have is this: will the current city “leaders” continue to ignore/fight the need for change or will guide the process to change the city’s charter on their own terms? My bet is they will go with the former, putting their collective heads in the sand and hope the call for change.  They’ll pull their heads out of the sand long enough to object to a coming citizen drive to change the charter.  “We weren’t consulted” they’ll cry out months from now.  Today the choice is theirs to make: show leadership or get out of the way as citizens set about reforming our city’s dated charter.

– Steve Patterson


The number of wards

In looking back over the many posts I’ve done over the nearly five years I’ve been publishing this blog one of my favorite topics is local politics.  Reforming the city’s charter is always a good discussion.

In 1950 the City of St. Louis had 28 ward-elected Aldermen representing 850,000 residents (30,350/Alderman) covering 61.9 square miles.  By 1970 the population was down to 622,000 but we still had 28 aldermen.  By 1990 the population was below 400,000 yet the number of elected Aldermen & wards remained unchanged since the city had more than double the population. Today each Alderman micromanages a fiefdom of less than 13,000 subjects.

In January of this year I presented the following chart created with the assistance of a friend:

The current level of Aldermen causes each to focus on their ward only.  Constituent service becomes their top priority: stop signs and other items better suited to a bureaucrat.  Because our elected  aldermen focus mainly on issues within their ward, the bigger city-wide issues often lack leadership.  Many corridors cannot be planned because different aldermen control opposite sides of the street.

I don’t believe our city will prosper again until we make a number of structural changes, including reducing the number of ward-based aldermen.  I tend to believe we need both ward-based and city-wide representation.  I’d like to start from scratch.  At the very least change all the names — City Council instead of Board of Aldermen, Districts rather than Wards. Shake City Hall from top to bottom.

The poll this week deals with one aspect of charter reform, the number of representatives for our city.  The number of representatives cannot possibility be right in 1950 and in 2009 with half a million fewer residents.  Did they have too few in 1950?  No, we have too many today. Would this mean less Black elected official?  Yes.  Less White officials too.  I think the proportions would remain unchanged.

Vote in the poll in the right sidebar and discuss your views below.

– Steve Patterson


Former Alderwoman Still Using Board of Alderman ‘Official Business’ Placard

A personal friend of mine, last week on Monday August 24th, spotted former 25th Alderwoman Dorothy Kirner park at a parking meter and place an “official business” placard upon the dashboard of her Ford Escort before going inside without feeding said parking meter.

Kirner defeated me in the March 2005 Democratic primary election for Board of Alderman for the 25th Ward.  She did not seek re-election in the 2009 race.  Shane Cohn was sworn into office as the new Alderman for the 25th Ward in April 2009.

Above you can see the placard placed on the dash.

These placards are issue to elected officials for, well, official business.  I’m not sure what official business a former Alderperson is conducting for the Board of Aldermen.  Could it be she expects to continue receiving the perks of the office she no longer holds?

– Steve Patterson


Why Does the Board of Aldermen Need a Summer Vacation?

On Friday, July 10th, the Board of Alderman held their last meeting before their summer recess. They’ll reconvene for their next general meeting in a little over two months, on September 18th. In the days before air conditioning, I could see where such a break might serve a real purpose. But given the challenges the city continues to face, I’m not quite sure what purpose a two-month break serves today, in the 21st century. Most every other city or local government unit that I’m aware of continues their regular meeting schedule year-round. And it’s not like our aldermen are having to trek over to Jefferson City and be away from their families for weeks or months, they’re only going downtown! Yeah, I know it’s how things have been done for decades, and change doesn’t happen quickly around here, but I was wondering if I’m the only one that views this as not-so-quaint. Or, are we just better off keeping our legislators away from legislating?

Board of Aldermen chambers.  Photo by Steve Patterson
Board of Aldermen chambers. Photo by Steve Patterson

Apparently, one big challenge is that the BoA chambers are not air-conditioned.  I know, I know, putting in air conditioning would be politically problematic – it would probably cost $100,000 and the aldermen would be getting something “special” during trying economic times.  But we may be being penny wise and pound foolish.  We’re maintaining a part-time legislature, and if they’re able to accomplish what they need to in 10 months, then maybe it’s a non-issue.  But much like buying our Police air-conditioned patrol cars, I’d expect that more would be accomplished if the BoA were able to meet 12 months a year.  If nothing else, there’d be fewer excuses for the glacial pace most board bills follow . . .

– Jim Zavist