ST. LOUIS – Nearly three years after the first wave of COVID-19, the St. Louis Board of Aldermen has started meeting in the grand chamber at city hall again. The board was one of the few remaining elected bodies in America.
The chamber, which dates to 1898, had no HVAC system or air filtration. In this age of COVID, it was essentially an incubator for possible infection. So, it sat empty. Under recommendation from the City of St. Louis Department of Health, the 28 aldermen met via Zoom as their desks gathered dust in the chamber.
Last month, they finally began meeting in person. However, they met in a room at the Department of Health, not in the historic city hall chamber.
That changed last Friday. The full board met in the chamber after the installation of eight portable air purifiers with HEPA filtration.
“(The Department of Health) came in and did a walkthrough to make sure everything was working, and we were cleared to be back in chambers,” Board of Aldermen President Megan Green said. “So, we’ll be back there for the foreseeable future.”
Green was elected in November 2022 and had already presided over full board meetings. However, the magnitude of it truly hit home Friday as she stood on the majestic raised dais in the chamber, overlooking the board.
“This is the first time that a woman has taken the dais and overseen this body,” Alderman Bret Narayan (Ward 24) said as he announced Green as his honored guest at Friday’s meeting.
Fellow board members applauded the moment.
“It was definitely an emotional experience, standing up there on the dais, knowing that I’m the first woman to ever hold that position,” Green said. “You walk into that room, you definitely can feel all the great debates that have come before us.”
“(There’s) something about being in person, about being in a space where it shows the weight of the work that we do and shows the legacy and history of the work that we do,” said Alderwoman Annie Rice (Ward 8).
“All of that gets to you when you’re on the floor. I think that’s a really important part of the job. We’re in the people’s chamber. For them to be able to come in and view us from the gallery is really important. We’re doing the business of the city, and we need to be available in public for people.”
“I can jump up, run over, talk with a colleague, and get answers about something. To talk about the nuances of a piece of legislation,” Alderman James Page (Ward 5), said of the return to the chamber. “It’s time.”
“It’s easier to walk over to somebody and have a side conversation with them about what’s happening. When we’re remote, you’re trying to call people and text people during the meetings, which doesn’t always work,” Green said.
The portable purifiers cost $80,000, according to Green.