We are in the beginning of our torturous presidential election cycle and I, like many others, dread the upcoming barrage of negative ads, fear mongering, lies and exaggerations. We deserve so much better and need to demand that what we have come to experience must stop. It reminds me of the quote by author Bernard Beckett
“Human spirit is the ability to face the uncertainty of the future with curiosity and optimism. It is the belief that problems can be solved, differences resolved. It is a type of confidence. And it is fragile. It can be blackened by fear and superstition.”
There are many problems we need to address as a country from gun violence, failing public education, racial inequities, radicalisms and so much more. Problems are rarely solved through fear mongering, name calling and not being honest about the facts. While our democracy was designed to be messy, it was also designed to function and to govern.
Here in the St. Louis region a big topic of conversation that needs differences to be resolved is municipal governance. A big ripple of the tragic death of Michael Brown was the light that was shined on the effectiveness and fairness of all of the 90+ municipalities in St. Louis County. The state legislature jumped quickly on this issue and was supported by the Better Together organization. There is no one who does not believe that there is a better way to provide municipal services in St. Louis County than the current system. The challenge in my estimation is how to first understand the problem and then how do we as a region determine the solutions. What does good governance look like?
What has transpired to date has been a series of negative stories, hyperbole and exaggeration on the issue by those wanting consolidation. A handful of municipalities with bad practices were flagged and then all others were assumed to be the same. I want to be clear that the practices that violated individual rights, treated people with disrespect and harmed anyone disproportionately to their supposed crime needed to be stopped immediately. We cannot keep the municipal governance system the way it is – change is needed. The issue has become how does change occur and who decides what that change or good governance looks like.
Should politicians in Jefferson City or in Clayton, whom are both needed in the conversation, decide what happens in a local community? Shouldn’t those people who live in these communities, pay their taxes, send their children to the schools and have the closest vantage point on their governments have the biggest say in this matter? How can we all work together to find the solutions that will work?
For over five years Beyond Housing has been working with the leadership of the 24 municipalities and their citizens in the boundaries of the Normandy Schools Collaborative to address the issue of effective governance. This bottom up approach has yielded many successes and can be a model for how we move forward. Here are some of the results to date:
- Dissolved Police departments in Cool Valley, Wellston, Charlack and then contracted with Normandy and new North County Co-Op for services as dramatic cost reductions exceeding $1,000,000.
- Secured $500,000 grant from the Missouri Department of Conservation to hire foresters to take care of trees in our targeted geography
- Secured $750,000 to hire Police School Resource Officers for every Normandy School
- Created uniform trash bidding process saving municipalities over $100,000 to date
- Nine municipalities just put out a joint bid for audit services
- Twelve municipalities are working on creating one joint court system
- Created municipal best practices and shared with state legislature
- Invested over $60,000,000 in residential housing stock creating new homeowners, rental opportunities for seniors and families
- Built new grocery store and movie theatre
- Partnered with Normandy Schools Collaborative to assist in regaining their accreditation
Change is happening. Much more needs to be done and we need the state, the county and Better Together to help us. What we don’t need is solutions without input from the people it will impact. So the next time you hear the negative, the top down voices of change in municipal government, remember that real work is happening and it is being driven by folks in community. The same people who pay taxes, raise their children, care for their property and do all the things we all do. I believe the quote is “a government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish” – let’s make that happen.