One week after the St. Charles County Council voted to take a stand against the proposed merger of St. Louis City and County, the organization behind that measure hit the pause button on its efforts to secure a statewide vote on the issue.
In announcing its decision, representatives from Better Together cited concerns over the current state of affairs in St. Louis County government. At about 4:15 p.m. on May 6, St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson tweeted: “After several weeks talking with @BTstl [Better Together St. Louis] I’ve asked them to pause the petition effort. With the turmoil in the county, now is not the time. I believe fragmentation limits progress for our residents & I continue to support a city/county merger. We can revisit this in the future.”
In a statement released at about 4:50 p.m. that same day, St. Louis County Executive Sam Page appeared to agree with Krewson about the need to pause before taking the proposition to a statewide vote.
“Better Together’s proposal sparked a conversation about how our region’s governments could be reformed. That’s an important conversation, and one that we should continue,” Page stated. “I appreciated Better Together’s contribution to the dialogue but I had several serious reservations about the group’s proposal. Among my concerns was the statewide vote. I believe any change to government in the city and the county should be up to city and county voters. I am encouraged that Better Together pulled its proposal today. It shows they’re listening. I hope that future efforts at reform will be built from the ground up, engaging community leaders, the African- American community, the Municipal League and other stakeholders.”
Local activist Jennifer Bird, who is one of the founders of the grassroots Stop the Merger campaign, described her reaction as “excited.”
“I’m very excited for St. Louis County,” Bird said. However, she cautioned “are they [Better Together] dead or just comatose? That’s the question.”
“I don’t trust it,” Bird said. She added that she believes voters need to beware. “We still need HJR 54 to go through to offer that protection in the future.”
HJR 54, sponsored by Rep. Dean Plocher [R-District 89] “proposes a constitutional amendment requiring ballots to merge or dissolve cities or counties only be approved if those cities or counties approve the ballot.”
In responding to Better Together’s decision to pause its efforts to put a merger measure on the November ballot, Plocher replied: “Any decision to merge the city and county should always rest with the communities affected. I am happy to see the proponents of Better Together are now in agreement on this issue. Future proposals must be thoroughly evaluated and stakeholders living in the St. Louis region must receive true consideration. I will push for the General Assembly to pass HJR 54. It is imperative that we never allow the fundamental principles of representative democracy and self-rule be put at risk in our state.”
The fate of HJR54 now sits with the Missouri Senate, which concludes its current session on May 17.