Why We Must Shrink the Board of Aldermen: Our Q&A with Scott Ogilvie

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Alderman Scott Ogilvie, age 31, of the 24th Ward: "What do we have to lose?
In a few hours, St. Louis' 28 elected aldermen will march back into City Hall after the summer recess to resume the 2012-2013 session of law-making. But one of the biggest reforms this year lies in our hands, fellow voters.

This November, we must decide whether to completely redraw our political map and cut the board down to a much leaner 14 members (which wouldn't take effect until 2021).

Last night, the board's youngest member -- Alderman Scott Ogilvie of the 24th Ward -- told us why citizens should say "yes" to shrinking the very body he's a part of.

Daily RFT: You wrote on your website Wednesday that such a change would "shake up" some "unhelpful traditions" on the board. Like what?

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The many wards of St. Louis
Scott Ogilvie: I think the big one is "aldermanic courtesy," the idea that if something is contained in one ward, it has no effect on anybody else and nobody else should pay attention to it.

Like when you're subsidizing a stadium, which is a huge decision involving a lot of money. That's a real-estate decision contained in only one ward.

The St. Louis region already suffers from high degree of fragmentation. From the river to I-270, there are too many municipalities, too many sets of rules and too many competing interests, rather than a single region trying to go in one direction.

Sometimes there's even competition from ward-to-ward. And that's not helpful for the future of the city.

We chuckled about your complaint that aldermen have turned away from big ideas and now feel "compelled to weigh in on things as petty as parking lot curb cuts, dumpster locations, and dead cats."

But if aldermen don't help coordinate basic city services, who will?

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The proposed Charter Amendment, if adopted, would reduce the size of the Board of Aldermen. Concerns such as aldermanic courtesy, fragmentation of local government, and reducing constituent service demands on aldermen have nothing to do with the proposal. Legislative courtesy occurs in assemblies with members elected from districts to represent those districts. The size of the assembly matters not. Eliminating legislative courtesy requires elimination of districts and instituting true at-large elections, which the proposed Charter amendment would not accomplish. St. Louis City voters freed themselves from a 114 year history of a Board of Aldermen elected at-large to represent wards, the plantation ward system, in 1941. Our only modern day experience with true at-large election of a legislative body is the Board of Education. That Board exists today in name only and our public schools are run by a Special Advisory Board established by the State. The plantation ward and Board of Education legacies make for poor arguments in favor of at-large elections. Fragmentation in local government relates to the number of political subdivisions, entities enabled by the State to tax. Special taxing districts within a ward may tax, but wards themselves may not. Reducing fragmentation requires reducing the number of taxing entities, which the proposed Charter amendment would not accomplish. Legislative offices- members of the U.S. Congress, Missouri General Assembly, county commissions and councils, municipal assemblies- divide their time between lawmaking duties and constituent services. Each alderman and his or her constituents define the level of desired constituent services, not the City charter or ordinances. Don't want to provide constituent services, don't do it. Portland, Oregon is an anomaly, the only large city in the nation with a commission form of government, the opposite of St. Louis City’s strong mayor-council structure. The four commissioners (each salaried $98,000-$102,000) and mayor are bureau (department) managers. This fine system resulted in the bold move last Friday to finally add fluoride to Portland’s water. As for support for passage of the proposed amendment by aldermen- similar to signatures on an initiative petition, support for placing an issue on the ballot often does not equate to support for passage. The Board of Aldermen is to be commended for placing the issue on the ballot of a high turnout Presidential election. Note that the 2004 vote on the four so-called home rule Charter amendments also occurred during a November Presidential election, not in April. What do we have to lose by adopting the amendment? Doubling the size of wards will reduce access to aldermen by constituents and increase the cost of running for alderman. What do we have to gain by adopting the amendment? Nothing.

James Madison
James Madison

Expand the aldermen, Make them more accountable to the people who elect them, but do the expansion with lower pay per individual. Public service is not a get rich quick plan. the dog catcher has a harder job than the aldermen. Pay accordingly.

Mary Jo Rehg
Mary Jo Rehg

Hey, I think it's a GREAT idea to shrink the Board of Alderman, what I question is why is it that this would not happen till 2022???? Is it perhaps because the current Aldermen don't want to lose their jobs?


 @stlcity7thward By reducing the size of the BoA, alderman will be forced to stop concentrating on petty city services for constituents such as tree service, dumpster placement, pothole repair, cats stuck in trees and focus more on bigger issues such as park planning, schools, crime, zoning, etc. The big picture perspective is the big reason for shrinking the BoA.


And you way want to look up the NextSTL article regarding the size of BoA in major cities across the country: STL alderman serve fewer residents than just about any major city anywhere in the USA.


@herbiemarkwort @stlcity7thward You appear to have secret intelligence on the role of the Board of Aldermen on our public school system, law enforcement, prosecution, and judiciary. Do share. I am not familiar with NextSTL. Where is it sold? As for the municipal assemblies of other cities, you appear to be unaware that we're a city and a county, and our Board of Aldermen serves as both a municipal assembly and a county assembly. The appropriate comparison with cities across the country is to add the number of municipal assembly seats to the number of county assembly seats. Better yet, look at similar city-county governments, such as Nashville-Davidson County (35 District seats, 5 At-Large seats) or Indianapolis-Marion County (25 Districts seats, 4 At-Large seats). Marie Ceselski 7th Ward Democratic Committeewoman

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