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For better or worse: St. Charles County takes a stand on proposed merger of neighboring communities

St. Peters Mayor Len Pagano, Stopr the Merger co-founder Jennifer Bird and Chesterfield Mayor Bob Nation at the April 29 St. Charles county Council meeting.

St. Peters Mayor Len Pagano, Stop the Merger co-founder Jennifer Bird and Chesterfield Mayor Bob Nation at the April 29 St. Charles County Council meeting. [Stop the Merger Facebook photo]

On April 29, the St. Charles County Council hosted an unusually spirited meeting as council members, spectators and assorted important people gathered for what was billed as a “work session,” intended to explain the particulars of a St. Louis City-County merger proposed by the Better Together organization.

At the council’s Feb. 25 meeting, council members Joe Brazil [District 2] and John White [District 7] proposed a resolution opposing the merger plan. That proposal was tabled for future consideration. The April 29 work session was intended to allow proponents and opponents to state their respective cases, and allow public questions and comments on the plan and the larger issues involved.

The work session took on added importance in light of the fall of former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, who was a chief supporter of the plan. That fact was not lost on the council members.

The two featured speakers at the event largely confined their remarks to the proposed council resolution opposing the merger, especially the provision for a statewide vote on the matter. Speaking in favor of the merger plan was John Hancock, the former Missouri Republican Party chairman, and now a political consultant and commentator on KMOX radio. Hancock gave an informative defense of a proposed statewide vote, by a referenced lecture on the Missouri State Constitution. Speaking in favor of the proposed council resolution and against the Better Together plan, former State Sen. John Lamping used Thomas Jefferson as his inspiration in insisting that democratic governance rests on the consent of the governed. Lamping stated that a statewide vote on the proposed merger would, by allowing residents of Chillicothe, Joplin and Caruthersville [to name a few Missouri communities] a vote on this issue, make a mockery of Jefferson’s dictum.

Hancock left the meeting immediately after his speaking, declining to stay for a question-and-answer session.

The remainder of the work session consisted of various elected officials speaking in favor of the proposed council resolution and denouncing the Better Together plan. Former Florissant Mayor Tom Schneider led off with a defense of localism against a supposed coming bureaucratic behemoth. St. Peters Mayor Len Pagano and Chesterfield Mayor Bob Nation both recounted their tales of frustration with the Better Together supporters and leaders, citing their refusal to share details and what the mayors referred to as Better Together’s overall stealth and secretiveness.

Most of the assembled crowd, including council members and spectators, agreed that the system of regional governance was not working well, but Better Together would turn things for the worse.

The council discussion before the vote quickly turned spicy as members argued over the original resolution, the language in the proposal, the effect that adopting the resolution would or would not have on the continuing debate, and even the question of whether the resolution was necessary or proper.

Council member Joe Cronin [District 1] called Better Together a Trojan Horse, exemplifying self-aggrandizing government at its worst. He referred to “King Stenger” and billionaire philanthropist Rex Sinquefield, the architect of Better Together, as “exhibits A & B,” in making his case.

After more spirited discussion, the measure moved to an official vote. The full St. Charles County Council approved the resolution opposing a statewide vote for the Better Together merger plan by a 6-1 margin, with council member Dave Hammond [District 4] casting the sole vote against the resolution. During the debate, council member Hammond made a point of declaring that he rarely visited St. Louis, mostly due to safety concerns, and that he was pleased to live in a more secure county.

 

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