Ron Jackson and Shelley Welsch: Future of the region is better decided together

By on July 23, 2019

Editor’s Note: Ron Jackson, a community activist and volunteer, previously worked for former U.S. Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo. Shelley Welsch is former mayor of University City. Also contributing were Charlie Dooley, who served as St. Louis County executive from 2003 to 2015, and Monica Huddleston, the former mayor of Greendale.

From STL Today:

by Ron Jackson and Shelley Welsch

In the weeks since the Better Together proposal for the consolidation of St. Louis County and City was pulled, at least temporarily, one phrase has been repeated over and over by area residents: What next?

We believe what is next is what should have been first — a full-scale effort to gather input from our community on residents’ vision for the future of our metropolitan area. We believe we need to focus this effort on the entire metropolitan area, not just in the city and county, because the 15-county bi-state area must grow and thrive together, or the region will not make progress. We also believe any effort moving forward should acknowledge issues that will have to be addressed if our region is to grow — including education, health care and adequate public transportation.

In July 2018, an effort was undertaken to bring together a diverse group of residents from St. Louis County and the city to talk about what must happen to make the St. Louis region more successful, not just locally but within the Midwest and on the national stage. This ad hoc group includes former public officials, academics, business people and community activists.

We have developed a four-pronged approach for what we believe needs to happen, and we hope to find support within the larger community for this effort. We are stepping up to push this conversation forward, with all voices invited and welcomed, because no one else has yet done so.

As stated in our proposal for the wider community, we acknowledge that:

• St. Louis and St. Louis County are the economic drivers of the metropolitan bi-state area, as well as the state of Missouri.

• While in 1970, the city and county comprised 80% of the population of the St. Louis metropolitan statistical area, those entities are now home to less than half the population.

• The growth of the St. Louis metropolitan statistical area is basically stagnant, and we cannot turn around that growth pattern without regional governments, civic organizations and residents working collaboratively.

Research does not support the idea that municipal consolidation in and of itself will change the trajectory of a region. The Better Together proposal did not present a path that would necessarily improve the St. Louis metropolitan statistical area.

Residents must be brought into a true conversation about the region, to help them better understand what the St. Louis metropolitan statistical area is, and to get their input on their vision for the region and their priorities for moving forward

Without the input mentioned above, no plan, including one put forth by a board of electors, will be embraced by the people of the St. Louis region.

There is a way to do the work necessary to improve outcomes for the entire St. Louis metropolitan statistical area, and we would like to work on this with others in the region who believe, as we do, that region-wide improvement is truly possible.

Our four-pronged approach? Our effort would include a regional report analysis, a comprehensive community outreach and priority documentation process, a regional governance structure analysis, and finally the establishment of an entity to house ongoing civic involvement, similar to Civic Atlanta (www.civicatlanta.org).

Our full proposal, with details of how we envision this process will work, can be found in a Dropbox file at: https://tinyurl.com/togethernext. Also included on the site is a link to another site that includes dozens of documents, historical and otherwise, related to regional governance.

It should be noted that we are not advocating for or against any particular proposal or approach related to metro regional governance. We are advocating for a full-scale community outreach effort to gain input from residents all over the region — input that can then be part of the ongoing discussions and inform future actions and decisions.

Read more.

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