Friday, April 30, 2004

From Across the Mighty Mississippi...

The Post-Dispatch Illinois edition reported on Thursday the closure of the Collinsville Convention and Visitors Bureau, effective June 30th.

Collinsvile, Illinois (about 10 miles east of Downtown St. Louis via I-55/70) is home to Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in Missouri or Illinois and largest archaeological site in the United States. Cahokia Mounds is the only World Heritage Site in the U.S. maintained by a state agency; most others are national parks.

Cited reasons for the closure of the Collinsville CVB are a 50 percent cut in Illinois state tourism funding, costs of the expansion of Gateway Center, a small convention hall located at Eastport Plaza in Collinsville (off Illinois 157 at the junction of I-255 and I-55/70), and revenue to be lost when a TIF-funded redevelopment on Illinois 157 results in the demolition of three of the eleven hotels/motels located in Collinsville.

CCVB duties will now be handled by the Gateway Center and the Collinsville Chamber of Commerce; two of the three CCVB staff will be transferred to Gateway Center.

I overheard today that the Illinois Republican Party will be holding their State Convention at the Gateway Center on May 14-15. There's only one staff person whose job it is to coordinate all the logistics of this event, especially a rather complicated hotel reservation request system. Essentially, IL GOP delegates (a preponderance of whom are from the Chicago metro area), get to choose what hotel and other room specs they want - reservation forms are due to the party office today; then the party staff reassigns them based on status within the party. Several hundred people have to be coordinated by this one person.

Of course, you notice this is happening before the June 30th closure of the CCVB. One can only imagine how much harder this coordination problem will become then. Those Republicans always make sure to take care of their own - before a leaner, meaner government takes effect. ;-)

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Dueling Press Releases

It seems that, for the past year or so, if the Mayor's office puts out a press release about any mildly controversial topic, the Comptroller's office does as well.

The political context is that for a while now, the two offices - arguably the most powerful within St. Louis City government - have been feuding, using the media (primarily the Jerry Berger column in the Post-Dispatch and the "Political Eye" column in the St. Louis American) as outlets.

Conflicts between these two offices are nothing new, but are heightened by the politics of race and power: Comptroller Green is African-American and was appointed to her position originally by St. Louis's first African-American mayor, Freeman Bosley Jr.; she is the City's first African-American female comptroller, although two African-American men had previously been comptroller: Virvus Jones, in the 1990s, and John Bass, in the 1970s.

Mayor Slay, who is white, currently supports the Advance Saint Louis plan which would provide a variant of the strong-mayor form of government, and under which the duties currently handled by the Comptroller and a variety of elected "county offices" would be shifted into a Department of Finance whose director would report to a Chief Administrative Officer, much like a city manager.

Under the current city charter (that's the one approved by the voters June 30, 1914, just two days after Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, starting World War I), there is already a Department of Finance headed by - guess who? - the Comptroller.

However, it is not a true department because two component units (the Supply Division and the Assessor) are headed by mayoral appointees, and two other components (the Treasurer and the Collector of Revenue) are independently-elected "county offices."

Curiously, the License Collector function is not part of the Department of Finance and has maintained a high degree of operational autonomy. Both the License Collector and the Collector of Revenue are basically off-budget functions, because they are fee offices: they are not subject to annual appropriations, but get their revenue by keeping a commission from the funds they generate for the City through their day-to-day function of collecting property and earnings taxes, water bills, and business license fees.

Under the Advance Saint Louis plan, the Board of Estimate & Apportionment as well as the Comptroller's Office itself would disappear, although an Auditor would be elected separately from the Mayor. The fee offices along with the on-budget county offices (Recorder of Deeds, Treasurer) would be absorbed into the new Department of Finance.

So, anyway: that political debate is why you'll sometimes see press releases from both offices on the same damn topic. For example:

Larry Rice vs. Don Breckenridge - the fight over future use of the federal office building named after an FBI agent killed in the line of duty, L. Douglas Abram.

4/26/04: Mayor Slay's Statement on the Abram Federal Building Decision (Mayor's Office)
4/27/04: $100 Million Kiel Development Set to Move Forward (Comptroller's Office)

New Casino Development on the Riverfront

1/15/04: City Selects Pinnacle Entertainment for Downtown Gaming Development (Comptroller's Office)
1/15/04: City Development Commissions Rank Pinnacle Entertainment as First Preference for New Riverfront Casino and Mixed-Use Development (St. Louis Development Corporation - a quasi-governmental non-profit whose executive director is appointed by the mayor)

Funding for Lambert Airport

12/05/03: Mayor Slay Announces Additional FAA Funding for Lambert (Mayor's Office)
12/05/03: City Announces Lambert Airport Gets $85 Million in FAA Grants (Comptroller's Office)

Interesting, isn't it?

Friday, April 23, 2004

East-West Gateway Council of Governments, the St. Louis metropolitan regional planning agency, has come out with a new logo, new name, and new digs at One Memorial Drive overlooking the Arch, in the past six months or so.

The staff leadership is still pretty much the same - Les Sterman, is still executive director as he has been for nearly 20 years now. Of course, the board of directors is seeing some reshuffling, as longtime Madison County board chair Rudy Papa was replaced by Alan Dunstan; with the passing of Buzz Westfall, St. Louis County has new representation by Charlie Dooley; and with both St. Clair County executive John Baricevic and St. Charles County executive Joe Ortwerth slated to leave office soon, Baricevic to seek a judgeship and Ortwerth to continue his evangelical pursuits (as he once said in response to questioning by infamous local TV reporter Elliott Davis, "Jesus loves you, Elliott").

Although transportation planning is the traditional bailiwick of EWG, they have tried to branch out into regional planning for issues such as workforce development.

However, when you click on the link for Economic and Fiscal Policy, you get:

"The page cannot be found"

Hmmm... meanwhile, EWG does tell us in periodic updates to its magnum opus document Where We Stand, that St. Louis ranks worst of 35 "peer metros" in asthma, and fourth worst in springtime allergies.

Hey, my nose could've told me that! But at least we're not Atlanta: that southern metropolis scores a full 100 points on a 100 point scale for allergy suffers. St. Louis only gets 91 points.

I guess all those danged peach trees must put out an awful lot of pollen... :-)

Thursday, April 22, 2004

There sure is a lot of construction going on in St. Louis these days.

From the Delmar and Oakland streetscape enhancement projects, to the Forest Park improvements, to the MetroLink Cross-County extension, the western part of the City is just covered in dump trucks.

Of course, until a court intervened, the residents of the gigantic houses on Lindell near Washington University made sure no trucks passed in front of their houses, citing a nearly 100-year-old covenant.

Ah, how the wealthy can use their money to stymie progress...

Remember that slogan "The Future's on 40" - an ad campaign several years ago dreamed up by a group called something like "Citizens for Historic Neighborhoods"?

That was the group opposed to the Cross-County MetroLink extension going along Forest Park Parkway. I guess they're still fighting the battle every inch they can.