ST. LOUIS – Three St. Louis alderpersons are engaged in an ongoing lawsuit to prevent a recent voter-approved proposition from taking effect, which would effectively change the city’s redistricting plans and add new ethics rules for the board.
Aldermen Marlene Davis (Ward 19), Carol Howard (Ward 14), and Jack Coatar (Ward 7) are plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which was filed on May 10. The city and members of a political group responsible for organizing the petition to get the proposition on the ballot are the defendants.
In 2012, voters passed a measure to cut the wards and number of aldermen in half, from 28 to 14. Voters approved the measure to increase efficiency in government and to save money. The Board of Aldermen unanimously approved a 14-ward map in December 2021 after seven weeks of rough drafts and input from the public. St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones signed off on the newly-drawn wards.
Each of the 14 wards would have approximately 21,500 people. Half of the wards are majority African American and half are majority white. More than 85% of the neighborhoods were kept intact and in one ward.
The map and new wards would have taken effect in April 2023 ahead of city elections.
However, community organizers successfully petitioned to have a measure added to the April 2022 ballot—Prop R—to alter the city charter. The map that had been approved by the Board of Aldermen and signed by the mayor would be tossed out in favor of a new one drawn by an independent commission. The measure also requires alderperson to declare personal or financial conflicts of interest and to abstain from voting on matters when such a conflict arises.
Despite a low turnout, Prop R passed by a margin of 69% to 31%. The city will still move ahead in reducing the number of wards but now the aldermen won’t be involved in the redrawing.
Nearly all of the city’s current 25 aldermen have plans to run for the 14 seats that will remain.
At present, there are three vacancies on the board, as well as the role of board president.
Sarah Wood Martin (Ward 11) resigned in mid-April after voters passed the Prop R alterations earlier that month. Martin expressed concerns her work as a lobbyist for clients in Jefferson City might violate the city’s new conflict-of-interest rules for alderpersons. However, the rules only say an alderperson cannot take money to represent a person, organization, or business before city agencies. There is no specific rule outright prohibiting lobbying at the state legislature.
Jeffrey Boyd (Ward 22) and John Collins-Muhammad (Ward 21) were indicted on June 2 on federal bribery and corruption charges linked to pay-to-play schemes. Collins-Muhammad, who was originally part of the lawsuit to overturn the results of the Prop R election, resigned on May 11 while Boyd stepped down after appearing in federal court on June 3. Board of Alderman President Lewis Reed, who was also named in the federal indictment for bribery and corruption, resigned on June 7.
Special elections have been scheduled to fill all four vacancies, in accordance with the city charter. Wards 11 and 22 will hold elections on July 19 and August 23, respectively. The election to fill the 21st Ward vacancy will take place on August 2, the day of the city primaries.
Meanwhile, the city will hold elections on September 13 and November 8, 2022, to determine who will serve the remaining months of Lewis Reed’s term.
On Wednesday, July 6, the St. Louis City Counselor’s Office filed a petition to have the alderpersons’ lawsuit tossed. The other defendants in the suit—Wally Siewart, Anne Sappington, Lashana Lewis, Kathleen Farrell, and Rev. Darryl Gray—served as the “committee of petitioners” for Reform St. Louis. They are being represented by attorney Matthew Vianello.