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The St Louis Contrarian

Providing Independent and Intelligent Insight on St. Louis Public Policy Issues

Archive for the month “August, 2018”

St. Louis Decline in Convention Business

The St. Louis Business Journal published a story today indicating that convention business in St. Louis during 2018 is down 20% from 2017. This is bad news. Two factors seem to be in effect. First the Ferguson episode discouraged many organizations from choosing St. Louis as the site of a convention. Second, the professionals in the field claim the relatively small size of the convention center. Part of the problem is the shortage of hotel rooms.

I like some real experts am skeptical of the convention size issue. While the problem is technically true, other cities are also expanding. The overall national convention business is down. Unfortunately I don’t have any answers.

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Update on Paul McKee and Northside Project

Little is happening in this arena. KWMU came upon a renegotiation agreement that requires relatively little of the northside group to keep the deal going. As I have said, I know McKee and consider him an honorable purchase. I think he has been squeezed by too many parties in the city. Written by Paul Dribin

Too Much Democracy

I am getting tired of do gooders who are looking for more civic involvement, community development, etc. I just had an aborted lunch with just such a person who complained that urban development has been wrong all along and she knows a better way.

We have a representative government. That means we rely on our elected officials to make key political and administrative decisions. As citizens we should provide input to our elected officials and hold them accountable. Direct democracy does not work. The biggest problem with community based decision making is that the local community does not and cannot look out for the overall good of the larger community. They tend to be opposed to changes in governance and other large issues that do not have immediate payoffs.

St. Louis has too much democracy. It seems that everyone in town no matter how ill informed has a voice and potential veto power. The division of power among both the aldermen for the legislative branch and the mayor, comptroller, and President of the Board of Aldermen is dysfunctional. Written by Paul Dribin

Gentrification?

Professor Todd Swanstrom wrote a wonderful article that I read in Urban Observatory. In that article he very intelligently took apart much of the misinformation in St. Louis. Advocates have decried any effort at city development that does not specifically address poor people. They complain that gentrification is moving poor people out of the central corridor and the Tower Grove area. Professor Swanstrom points out the data does not support this assumption. True gentrification requires a substantial increase in housing costs that drive out poor people. This is not happening in St. Louis. The contrary problem has taken place; depopulation of many areas of the city.

You would think we would welcome development with open arms. Oh well!

The Advantages of Manufactured Housing

apple.news/ANxCsCcDTSFyyNC-4v7OhXA

I have been advocating this for years

Metrolink Failures Continue

According to the St. Louis Business Journal, Metrolink has lost 39 million riders since 2004. Why do we want to expand it? Isn’t doing over again that which did not work the sign of insanity? Written by Paul Dribin

The Biggest Cause of Housing Unaffordability

I run into issues affecting housing affordability every day. The simplest and also most difficult problems are the land use and zoning restrictions that unnecessarily drive up the cost of housing and or limit or ban the construction of apartments. Some of these decisions are things such as:

1. Banning of small houses

2. Minimum lot sizes that require a large expenditure on land.

3. Banning of manufactured housing.

4. Excessive road widths and sidewalk requirements

5. Inefficient inspection processes.

6. Banning of apartments

These are not sexy issues and are often overlooked. Each one of them makes housing less affordable. Written by Paul Dribin

Message to Stenger

An excellent column by Tony Messenger in the Post offering some suggestions for County Executive Stenger as he will begin another term with both the Council and Prosecuting Attorney lined up against him. If Stenger operated at all honestly his job would be easy. Written by Paul Dribin.

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Two years ago, Sam Page asked me for a favor.

We had been talking for a couple of weeks about his work behind the scenes to help St. Louis County create a prescription drug monitoring program to fight the opioid epidemic. As a physician and state lawmaker, Page had worked extensively on the issue, but he was stymied by another physician-lawmaker, Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, who consistently protected Missouri’s status as the only state in the nation without such a program.

So Page, the chairman of the St. Louis County Council, with the help of the medical community and full support of his then-ally, St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, helped set St. Louis County up to operate its own program, which has turned into a de facto state monitoring program, with more than half of the state’s population now covered by it.

I planned to break the news ahead of Stenger’s planned announcement, and Page asked me not to. The county executive wanted the headline, Page said, and he wanted him to have it.

So I waited. Stenger got his headline.

And it probably contributed to his win Tuesday, narrowly holding on to his seat by defeating challenger Mark Mantovani by around 1,000 votes. The election hasn’t been certified yet as there are still ballots being tallied. Stenger will face Republican Paul Berry, III, and Libertarian Nick Kasoff in November, but neither are expected to be well-funded candidates. So unless Mantovani or the election board find any voting oddities, Stenger wins.

By winning, though, the county executive may have actually lost. And the opioid issue is a perfect example of why.

A politician who doesn’t care about credit builds coalitions.

Stenger picks fights.

He and Page would soon be at odds over everything, mostly because the County Council chairman started to discover that Stenger was deceiving the council — on a plan to bump up Prosecutor Robert McCulloch’s pension, on a proposal to sell part of Creve Coeur Lake Memorial Park, on a bridge to nowhere, and on a scheme to move millions of dollars in county office leases to property owned by the county executive’s top donor.

Page asked questions and got shut out.

The pattern played out in county offices, too, as department head after department head quit or was forced out after they asked questions or stood up for good public policy.

In winning, Stenger said voters sent a message:

“Today’s victory shows that voters believe we are moving St. Louis County in the right direction,” he said Tuesday night.

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Seen another way, voters left Stenger all alone on an island.

Challenger Lisa Clancy defeated Councilman Pat Dolan, Stenger’s last reliable ally on a council that now questions his every move. Voters approved at least one proposition meant to shift some balance of power away from Stenger and to the council, as a check to his power.

And voters overwhelmingly defeated McCulloch, perhaps Stenger’s most important supporter, who had used his office to go after Councilman Ernie Trakas when he questioned the county executive, and had refused to investigate Stenger when council investigations raised serious questions about the improper influence of donors or Sunshine Law violations.

Wesley Bell, who will become the new prosecuting attorney, might be more receptive to investigating the office of the county executive. So Stenger’s next four years, if he lasts that long, might be more uncomfortable than the first.

It didn’t have to be this way. And it still doesn’t.

If Stenger wants to leverage his narrow victory into a real opportunity for success, a path forward exists.

He could call Attorney General Josh Hawley tomorrow and commit to no more Sunshine Law violations and find a way to make that lawsuit go away.

He could accept the council’s decision to force new appointments to the Port Authority and stop trying to use that body as his personal piggy bank to help select donors.

He could commit to working on consensus with the council when it comes to developing policy priorities and awarding contracts and making appointments to boards.

He could follow Mantovani’s lead and commit to not accepting donations from companies seeking contracts with the county.

And he could actually start showing up at council meetings and rebuilding relationships with the body that voters expect him to work with to manage taxpayer dollars wisely.

This path forward is not unknown to Stenger. It’s the same one he suggested for the nephew of a major donor in the fall of 2015 when he wrote a letter to a federal judge and asked for leniency in sentencing for a convicted drug dealer:

“(He) understands and accepts full responsibility for his actions,” Stenger wrote at the time, “but also is aware that he must disassociate himself from those who would participate in illegal activity. He has made every effort to move forward in a positive way.”

Strong words. Stenger could take them to heart. Or not.


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Messenger: Last-minute dark money from Sinquefield seeks to fool St. Louis County voters

Obscure fire committee appears again to help county executive consolidate power.

St. Louis American Article About the Significance of Bell Win

Elections are usually about the merits of individual candidates, but every now and then they’re about something more. Zeitgeist is a German word that means “spirit of the times.” It’s regularly used to describe what in a larger sense may be going on culturally, intellectually or politically. There are events and phenomena that one invokes as representative of a defined Zeitgeist.

One of the burning questions for people whose political activism was forged in the sixties is whether the progressive moment we are currently witnessing is a sixties déjà vu, or is seeing a relationship between Black Lives Matter, MeToo, Never Again and the sixties a case of hope triumphing over experience? Just as the Black Power and the Anti-War movements were examples of the sixties Zeitgeist, we believe Black Lives Matter, MeToo and Never Again will come to be seen as examples of the Zeitgeist of this generation.

It’s impossible to know how the August 7 Democratic Primary will be considered in the larger scope of history, but today it feels like a major paradigm shift for the St. Louis region generally and the black community specifically. August 7 has permanently changed St. Louis politics in the way the August 9, 2014 police killing of Michael Brown and its aftermath forever changed the St Louis region. In fact, you cannot understand what happened politically on August 7 outside of the context of August 9.

First, we congratulate Wesley Bell on his historic victory and commend him on a very well executed campaign. We judge candidates in a campaign like we judge young basketball players during a season: Are they learning, evolving, getting better? Wesley Bell, starting as a long-shot but closing like a sure-shot, did all three of those. The candidate who claimed the mantle of victory was not the candidate that filed for office in February. We expect this impressive growth to continue as this inexperienced prosecutor takes office and begins to make some of the changes he has promised us.

We also commend the activist community, not only for providing bodies, energy and legitimacy to the Bell campaign, but for their political maturity that made this victory possible. In order to make progress in the political system, you have to resist the urge to make the perfect the enemy of the good. When the best is not available, but better is, you take better and move the chains. As The Rolling Stones sing, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find you get what you need!” The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri was especially damaging to McCulloch in educating the community about his record as a prosecutor in an unprecedented public education campaign.

Also, the larger, older African-American community of St. Louis County should be commended for a genuine willingness to pass the baton to a new generation by embracing Bell’s candidacy. For a community to remain healthy and strong, it must always have people willing to serve, but it also needs people who recognize when their service is no longer required and graciously accept the role of supporter. Bell’s absence of a primary challenger was a testament to restraint from many older, more seasoned attorneys who might have liked their chances.

August 7 also showed that the white community of St. Louis County in 2018 does not have the political will of the white community of 2014. Something happened. We doubted Bell when he told us that he was finding support among white voters, but there are not enough black voters to elect Bell as county prosecutor. For Bell to beat McCulloch 103,018 votes (56.62 percent) to 78,934 votes (43.38) in a county whose population is less than 25 percent black, clearly a critical number of white voters decided they have had enough of McCulloch’s tough (i.e., ineffective) on crime approach and his unapologetic arrogance in the face of a worsening crime crisis and over-incarceration. While Michael Brown’s death was a tragedy, how the aftermath of that tragedy was handled was an unmitigated disaster from which the region is yet to recover. Clearly, many county voters are ready to move on.

More than any other public official, Bob McCulloch became St. Louis’ official face for Ferguson. It was McCulloch who made the August 7 primary worthy of the attention of the New York Times the day before the election. White voters in St. Louis County realized they couldn’t restore the county’s reputation and their good name as long as McCulloch was their prosecutor. They moved on.

Oppressed people – the weak, the powerless, the disenfranchised – are taught from an early age about the moral superiority of forgiving those who have been responsible for their oppression. But in politics, the players – and voters – live by the brutal law of payback. We owed McCulloch, and we settled the score. There is nothing wrong with revenge, as long as it advances your interest. By the way, it’s best served cold. Enjoy.

Public Housing in Hong King

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