Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Response from Megan Green, 15th Ward Alderman Candidate

1. What do you view as the key role(s) of this position?  What do you view as the important attributes needed for this position?

The Board of Aldermen is the legislative branch of government for the City of St. Louis. Our role is to pass ordinances geared towards improving the economic, social, political, and educational outcomes in neighborhoods and improving the quality of life for all residents. Therefore, an Alderman is the person elected to represent the people of a specific Ward at City Hall and pass ordinances that will not only benefit the people of a particular Ward, but also of the City in general. Although the position is legislative in nature, over the years, Aldermen have also taken on many administrative functions, such as assisting constituents in navigating the complexities of City departments to have their specific needs met (trash picked-up, dead trees removed, crime addressed, pot holes fixed…). At the same time, Aldermen must engage and support the variety of neighborhood organizations, community development colorations, business associations, school groups, and other organizations. An Alderman must be able to view the world through a variety of lenses by looking at policy at the Ward level, the City level, and the regional level. No Ward exists in a vacuum; therefore, it is important for an Alderman to be able to have collaborative leadership skills to work with others at the Board to make policies that will not only benefit individual Wards, but will also benefit the City and Region. An Alderman must also be a quick learner and problem solver, who can think strategically, provide timely response to constituent concerns, and make the best use of limited discretionary funds.

2. Why do you think you are the best choice for 15th Ward Alderman? What differentiates you from your opponent(s)?

Despite only being in office for nearly three months, I have already hit the ground running, thus proving that I am a quick learner and strategic thinker who can balance Ward level policy with City level policy. Specifically, I’ve already demonstrated the ability to balance Ward and City interests by stopping a pay-day loan company from coming into our Ward, by working with the Community Development Corporation to develop plans to expand our historical districts to spur further development, by co-sponsoring the legislation creating a Civilian Oversight Board, and by starting Participatory Budgeting in the 15th Ward. With a background in public affairs, I have a strong understanding of how each sector of society works together (or doesn’t), as well as a strong understanding of the legislative branch of government.  My research background gives me the tools to analyze approaches that other cities have used to solve similar problems and to make the sound, data-based decisions necessary for moving us forward as a Ward, City, and Region.

3. What education (schools attended, degrees attained), experience, and attributes do you have that qualify you for this position?

I have a BA in Political Science from Penn State University and an MA in Educational Leadership from St. Louis University. I am also working toward my PhD in Educational Leadership with a Public Policy emphasis at St. Louis University.  I am a graduate of the prestigious Coro Fellows program and the Coro Mastery of Leadership Program. I have over 10 years of experience working in education and social services, mostly with low-income disadvantaged populations. While at Penn State, I was the President of College Democrats during the 2004 Presidential Election. In this capacity, I organized events for high-level campaign officials and orchestrated the largest student-voter turnout in Penn State history. Upon graduating, I moved to St. Louis to participate in the prestigious Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs during which time I completed projects for City Academy, The Department of Homeless Services, the Plumbers and Pipefitter’s Local 562, Great Rivers Greenway, Fleishman Hillard, Clare McCaskill, and Civitas. After Coro, I committed myself to bettering St. Louis through my work with a variety of non-profit organizations. As the Development Director of Shalom House, I was a voice for women from all walks of life as they struggled with mental illness and chemical dependency. As a teacher in St. Louis Public Schools and a parent organizer with Active Minds Institute, I worked with parents and students of varying economic backgrounds as we lobbied for schools that met their needs regardless of the zip code in which they lived. As the Development Director at Lemay Child and Family Center, I worked with the hard-working single mom who had to turn down a 10-cent raise per hour so she would not lose $200 worth of child care assistance a week. With the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 562, I organized and ran seminars to educate hundreds of members about the potential effects of the Right-To-Work legislation that was proposed during the last legislative session, successfully keeping such legislation off the ballot. Currently, at Child Care Aware of Missouri, I advocate for working families who want nothing more than safe, quality, and affordable child care for their most valuable possessions. I have previously served as the Vice-President of the 15th Ward Democrats, was a founding Board Member of the Foster and Adoptive Care Coalition Junior Board, and was appointed to Mayor Slay’s Inaugural Vanguard Cabinet for young professionals in 2010. I was elected 15th Ward Alderman in the October 2014 Special Election.

4. Please describe your previous involvement in the ward / neighborhood.

In my role as 15th Ward Alderwoman, I attend all neighborhood organization meetings and neighborhood safety meetings, and I work closely with the Tower Grove Neighborhoods Community Development Corporation and the South Grand Community Improvement District. I also am playing an integral role in supporting the establishment of a Tower Grove South neighborhood Association. Previously, I have been the Vice-President of the 15th Ward Democrats, and have spent three years working with parents in our Ward to develop a school.  I was also the Tower Grove Volunteer/Communications Coordinator for the Obama for America Campaign.

5. How would you approach representing a ward as diverse as the 15th Ward?

The 15th Ward is one of the most diverse Wards in the City of St. Louis. We are not only racially diverse, but also socio-economically diverse as well. In our Ward, we have renters and homeowners, students and professors, and fast-food workers and corporate executives.  Yet, that diversity is not often represented in our neighborhood institutions. In order to ensure broad participation in our Ward, it is necessary to implement non-traditional ways of both engaging and supporting all residents. We must recognize that not all people have the ability to come to monthly neighborhood meetings, yet their perspectives are still important. For those whose life circumstances prevent involvement, we, as a community, must ask what we can do to support our neighbors.  I have already started Participatory Budgeting in the 15th Ward. This is one mechanism for engaging a diverse cross section of residents as it requires going to the people to discover their needs.  I am in the process of researching other ways we can create a more participatory democracy for all people in our community. Being accessible as Alderman is also essential to representing the diversity of our Ward. I hand out my personal cell phone on all literature, am available regularly on social media, and am investigating options for holding “office hours” in the Ward a few times per month for those who would like to meet in person. Making myself available in a myriad of ways will assists me in engaging the diverse perspectives of those all across our Ward.

6. The police-involved shootings of Mike Brown, Kajieme Powell, VonDerrit Myers, and Antonio Martin have focused attention on racial inequality, economic disparity, and policing practices in the St. Louis region as well as the country as a whole.  What can you do as 15th Ward Alderman to address those issues?  What lessons have we learned, or should we learn, from these events and the subsequent unrest in our community?

The police-involved shootings of Mike Brown, Kajieme Powell, VonDerrit Myers, and Antonio Martin have indeed focused attention on racial inequality, economic disparity, and policing practices in the St. Louis region as well as the country as a whole. Although the national attention to these issues is new, the issues themselves are not. We have learned that there are significant gaps in our community. We have witnessed the effects that 200 years of institutionalized racism disguised as zoning and housing policy has had on creating concentrations of poverty and fragmentation across our region. We have learned that there are segments of our population who do not feel safe and protected by our police. We have learned how a poverty-stricken person’s inability to pay a speeding ticket can land him/her in jail for weeks. We have seen, at times, a militarized use of force against people exercising their First Amendment Rights. We have a new awareness of the long-term effects of unequal access to quality education, jobs, health care, and housing can have on people of color. Now that we have learned so much and have witnessed so much, we have a responsibility to change our Ward, our City, and our Region in order to ensure equal opportunity and access for all.  Since I moved to St. Louis ten years ago, I have been working on addressing our deep-rooted issues of racial inequality and economic disparity in both the education and non-profit sectors, and my understanding of these issues allows me to take a lead on them at City Hall. As 15th Ward Alderwoman, I released my 2015 plan for dealing with these issues the first week of January. This plan includes:

  1. Restoring trust between all in our community and the police to ensure that all citizens feel safe and protected, and having their constitutional rights upheld. To this end, I am co-sponsoring the  Civilian Oversight Board in order to increase civilian participation in the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department's approach to law enforcement, and I am advocating for Community Policing models that focus on crime prevention. Such  models  have been successfully used in cities such as Philadelphia, Kansas City, and Boston.  They advocate reviewing "use of force" policies to avoid violations of First and Fourth Amendment rights as well as providing implicit bias and civil disobedience training for all officers.
  2. Fighting crime through addressing its root causes: economic disparity, educational inequality, and drug-seeking behavior. To this end, I am supporting Aldermanic President Reed's Public Safety Plan for St. Louis, pushing for mandatory substance abuse treatment for anyone who commits a crime as a result of drug-seeking behavior, and advocating for universal access to high quality educational options from birth to 21 as we seek to stop the pre-school to prison pipeline.

These changes are necessary if we are to start to address the root causes of the disparities in our City and Region and build a truly vibrant City for all who live here.

7. Besides #6, what do you feel are the most pressing issues currently facing this office and what plans do you have to address these issues? (please be specific)

The most pressing issue to the City of St. Louis is the need for population retention and growth. As a City, we have some pretty significant needs, including updating our infrastructure, creating and maintaining high-quality schools, and addressing safety concerns. However, as a City, we have limited funds and a long-term trend of a shrinking tax base that makes these investments nearly impossible. We have to start looking at how we can retain people who move into our City, especially families who often move out of the City when their children become school-age, in order to build a tax base that can support our needs. First, we must work in partnership with St. Louis Public Schools and high-quality charter schools to bring greater awareness to the existence of high-quality educational options. Despite the fact that our neighborhood school just barely missed accreditation this past year and is on track to be fully accredited this next year, only 20% of the children at Mann elementary actually come from our neighborhood, as it still fights the perception of not being a quality school. We must work to change this perception so that more families see staying in the City as an option. Second, we must address crime through following the lead of other cities who have adopted community policing models that have significantly reduced crime in a relatively short amount of time. In order to build safer communities, these models create more citizen engagement in policing, build more trust, and focus on working with those who are most at risk of committing crimes. These models also do not typically cost any more than traditional policing models. If we can develop and publicize high-quality schools and reduce crime, we will then be able to attract and retain more families in our City, which can help to build a tax base that will fund other much needed services and infrastructure improvements.

8. Describe how you work with, or will work with, others to address your priorities.

An Alderman must be a true consensus builder. The vision for the 15th Ward is to create a place where ALL want to live, stay, and play. In order to realize this vision, it requires collaborating with a variety of people, organizations, and City departments. For example, the expansion of the historical district to include all of Tower Grove South is vital to the future vitality of our Ward. Currently, there is a fairly stark difference in the property values and investments that have gone into areas that are in the historical districts versus those that are not. To make something like this happen, it requires collaboration with the Tower Grove Neighborhood Community Development Corporation, a historical architecture firm, other Aldermen, neighborhood organizations, and the St. Louis Development Corporations, to name a few.  Once at the table, it is necessary to listen to the concerns or needs of each group and identify areas of mutual interest and support. Once the common commitments are developed and understood, then it is possible to more forward together in realizing our priorities.

9. St. Louis City voters approved reducing the number of Aldermen; how do you feel about this change?  Are there other city government changes you would like to see?

The reduction in the number of members of the Board of Aldermen is going to bring forth many challenges.  Most notably, the level of direct constituent service that residents receive from their Aldermen will most likely decrease. With two times the area to represent, Aldermen will be spread thinly when trying to address all of the overflowing dumpsters, dead trees, and traffic concerns. These functions are important therefore we must strengthen CSB and find ways to make our City departments more efficient in an effort to transition Aldermen back to their original job purpose--to be the legislative branch of the City of St. Louis. To this end, there are some legislative functions of the Board of Aldermen that I think should also change. For example, currently an Alderman must pass an ordinance to put in a stop sign. I think that duties such as stop sign placement should be delegated back to the appropriate City Department whose expertise it is to make those types of decisions. By transferring these administrative functions to City departments, it will again free up Aldermen to focus on big picture legislation that can have major impacts on our Wards and City.

10. How would you work to foster economic development in the City of St. Louis?

Economic development must start with education. For too long the City and County have fought each other for businesses, when they need to be working together to bring new businesses to the Region. Businesses look at a variety of indicators when trying to decide to relocate (cost of living, access to transportation, infrastructure, schools, etc.), but the number one reason businesses choose to relocate is because of the quality of the workforce. To have a high-quality workforce requires high-quality schools. Thus, to foster economic development, we must be focusing on giving our students the skills they need to be competitive in the workforce.

11. Neighborhood safety is always an important topic in the ward.  What have / will you do to address safety in the neighborhood?

Unfortunately crimes happen in our Ward every day. To date, I have convened and facilitated a meeting between the Chief of Police and the community to discuss crime and policing strategies.   I communicate with our Neighborhood Liaison Officer and our Community Improvement Specialist on an on-going basis about problem properties, nuisance properties, and crimes in our Ward. I send out monthly crime statistics after the NOM meeting to keep community members apprised of trends and update the neighborhood in a timely fashion with pertinent information about crimes. With that said, in order to truly address crime in our Ward, at the City level we have to start looking at effective ways of preventing crimes both in the short-term and the long-term. In the short term, we need to look at changing our policing models to replicate successful models used in other cities. These community policing models focus on group violence interventions, drug market interventions, individual gun violence interventions, and swift, certain, and fair judicial methods to keep repeat offenders off our streets. We must also mandate treatment with incarceration for anyone who has been convicted of a crime resulting from drug-seeking behavior. In addition, we need to re-open our youth centers and our full-service schools to give children safe, productive options for recreation when they are not in school, and we need to also invest in restorative justice programs for youth who have been convicted of crimes. In the long-term, we must ensure that all people have access to quality educational options beginning at birth, that there is adequate access to economic opportunities, and that drug-treatment is available and affordable before someone ever commits a crime.

12. What role should the Alderman have in working with the neighborhood business districts?  What role should the Alderman have in working with resident organizations?  How do / would you balance the needs of the residential and business districts of the ward so both are strong and vibrant?

I do not believe that the interests of businesses and residents are at odds. Residents want to live in a place with walkable, vibrant business districts, and the business districts rely on the residents of the area to patronize those businesses. As Alderman, I have been actively involved in both resident and business organization and will continue to do so. In particular, I am working on expanding the historical districts to include all of Tower Grove South in an effort to spur both business and residential redevelopment throughout the entire Ward.

13. How do / will you use the Alderman position to affect delivery of city services for the Ward? 

The Alderman is the citizen’s ambassador to City government. When people have complaints, it is my job to make sure that the complaints are relayed to the executive branch of government. For example, since being in office, I have been approached with a variety of traffic concerns ranging from the placement of one-way streets, to the need for stop signs, to motorists cutting through the neighborhood at high speeds. I have been working closely with the Streets Department to address these concerns and am in the beginning stages of conducting a traffic study to determine how we can create the safest streets for motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians. As more needs are brought to my attention, I will continue to work with each City Department to ensure that we are effectively and efficiently delivering services to the residents of the City of St. Louis.

14. What is your long-term commitment to this position? Do you plan to seek re-election?

I am committed to fulfilling the roles and responsibilities of the 15th Ward Alderman for as long as the constituents of the 15th Ward feel that I represent their needs. I do plan to seek re-election in two years.

15. If you could ask your opponent(s) one question, what would it be?

What have you done to address racial/income disparities in the City of St. Louis?

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