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?

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