Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Response from Francis G. Slay, St. Louis Mayoral Candidate

1.    What do you view as the key role, and/or attributes needed for this position? 

Nothing, other than on-the-job experience, completely prepares anyone to be the mayor of a major American city-- especially during a global recession. It has often been called the hardest job in America.

The mayor of St. Louis is the CEO of a $900-million organization. So, he must be able to lead, manage and budget.  The mayor implements the law. So, he must be fair and above reproach. The mayor is the chief advocate for 320,000 people. So, he must be fearless, articulate, and relentless. St. Louis is a very diverse place. So, the mayor must be fair and respect all citizens regardless of what they look like, where they live, or how they choose to live their lives. The mayor is a City planner. So, he must be knowledgeable, open to change, and able to learn from the past without being stuck in the past. The mayor must be both a dreamer and a realist. His vision should exceed his grasp, and he should know that. The mayor must try to fix intractable problems with causes far beyond his control. So, he must repeat the Serenity Prayer three times a day.

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

I listen and I pay attention to the people I represent. So, almost every night of every week of every year, I am in our neighborhoods meeting with people, sharing their triumphs, and mourning their losses. I have had to console parents whose children’s lives were cut short by violence.  So, I know that my job will not be done until every family and every neighborhood is safe. I have listened to thousands of parents tell me they love living in the City, but will not sacrifice their children’s education to do it. So, I am focused on increasing quality, public education choices. I hear from people who take great care of their property and who worry about an absentee landlord who is ruining their block. So, I created a problem property task force to force landlords to improve their property.  Many of our seniors have no one to watch over them. So, we created a system to check on them during dangerous weather. Too many of our children have seen their potential cut short because of exposure to dangerous lead paint. So, we created one of the most successful programs in the country. It has reduced lead paint poisoning by 80%. Too many returning veterans are homeless because of issues related to drugs or alcohol. So, we worked with the Salvation Army and St. Patrick Center to create places where they can live with supportive services until they get back on their feet. We have dramatically improved the management of the Housing Authority, and invested hundreds of millions of dollars to improve the quality of the apartments.

The people of St. Louis - all of them - are my bosses. I never forget that.

3.    Why do you think you are the best person for this position?  What differentiates you from your opponents?

I know this City. I know what makes it great, what holds it back, and what is important. I have a vision for the future. But, I also have a plan. I know how to get things gone.

For instance, when it comes to fighting crime, we are focusing on prevention and law enforcement. We are expanding quality educational opportunities, after school programs, quality child care, job training, and expanding job opportunities to give young people a chance to get ahead without turning to crime. But, within law enforcement, we are making the St. Louis Police Department smarter and more focused with hot spot policing and better use of technology. We need the state and federal governments to improve gun laws and better fund mental health services. In the meantime, we are enforcing existing gun laws and seeking high bonds for gun crimes to make more of our citizens safer.

It is one thing to talk about our challenges. It is another to make them better.
4.    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)

Safe neighborhoods (crime prevention), education, jobs, sustainability and diversity.

Safe neighborhoods (crime prevention). Making all of our neighborhoods safe all of the time has been the focus of every part of government. Last year we won an historic battle to regain control of our police department. The law takes effect this summer, but the transition has already begun.  I pushed for local control because I got frustrated. When you would ask me to do something about crime in your neighborhood or on your block, I could not always make a difference.  What do I want from our new chief and from our police department under local control? Go after criminals relentlessly. Prevent crime before it happens by being smart. Respond to you. Make you safe.  But, we haven’t been sitting on our hands waiting for local control. I pushed for initiatives like hot-spot policing and the Homicide Deterrence Initiative that make the police department smarter and more effective in PREVENTING crime, not just solving crime. We put extra police officers in higher crime neighborhoods at the times when the crime was occurring. Violent crime went down in the targeted areas by 50%, and property crime went down by almost 20%.We also are focused on the root causes of crime. We built two new recreation centers, and added Saturday recreation programs to our existing recreation centers to give kids productive things to do. We also have after school programs that include tutoring and seasonal sports. We are making progress. The FBI reports that crime has gone down in each of the last six years. It has gone down by double the national average. But, we have a lot more work to do.

One of the best crime prevention programs is a good job. So, this year, I issued an executive order to require that projects that get City TIFs to set goals to hire minorities, women, City residents and apprentices.

Education: Parents are responsible for raising their children. But, all of us have a responsibility to make sure that every child - regardless of his or her background - has a chance at a good education. That is a lot more than reading, writing and arithmetic.

We have increased choices for free quality education by bringing the best charter school ideas to St. Louis and pressuring failing schools to change or forcing them to shut down.

We have opened 18 new public schools in all parts of the City to offer a free, quality education to more children and families.

We helped expand quality after school programs for 3200 elementary school kids.  

We reduce unnecessary red tape to make it easier to open quality, safe child care centers.

I established a Commission on Children, Youth and Families to bring advocates, providers and philanthropy together to create a common vision and to work together to assure our children have the education, health, safety and services they need.  As a result, today, early childhood, juvenile justice, foster care, education, social services sectors are working together in new ways, resulting in significant improvements.  We have seen the reduction of lead paint poisoning, truancy and dropouts, and the increase in the supply, quality and access to childcare, preschool, after school, job training and public schools.   

I established a regional task force on Youth Violence Prevention. It is focused on violence prevention, intervention, enforcement, and re-entry after arrests. Its first major initiative will be providing 500 at risk kids with summer jobs. I personally hire an at risk high school student in my own office every summer.

We are working with foundations, non profits, and schools to increase the number of high school kids who enter and graduate from college. This has the benefit of helping the SLPS earn provisional accreditation.

I was instrumental in bringing Teach for America to St. Louis. Since 2002, more than 700 young people have taught here through the program.

I am working with partners to create a summer jobs program.

The economy. The City has enjoyed more than $2-billion in new investment and development since the recession.

The City has seen an increase in conventions and tourists.

St. Louis now has the highest per capita income in Missouri, and it has grown by more than half a billion dollars since the recession.

Hundreds of small businesses have opened. Arch grants provides startup money for new businesses.

A new Downtown incubator is thriving. St. Louis has earned a national reputation as one of the best places for entrepreneurs.

The City’s unemployment rate has dropped from 13.3% to 8.8%.

We got long-stalled projects started, including major new investment in north St. Louis and a reopened Kiel Opera House. An once-in-a-lifetime project is underway to make the Arch easier and safer for everyone to experience by connecting, invigorating and expanding the park’s grounds and museums.

Larger employers are committing to the City, and adding jobs.

We helped create and continue to fund the St. Louis Alliance for Homeownership Preservation. It has helped more than 1,300 City families facing foreclosure stay in their own homes.

We champion “live, work, play and pray” neighborhoods.

We started a citywide, curbside recycling program that has kept 14,000 tons of trash out of landfills.

We have championed alternative transportation including hundreds of miles of bike paths and lanes.

We opened the region’s first commuter bike station and ushered through an ordinance to require bike parking in new developments.

The City plants 3,000 trees per year. The City picks up and cleans up roughly 26,000 tons of debris, illegally dumped trash and litter every year.

We have created one of the nation’s most comprehensive municipal sustainability plans. 

I hired the City’s first sustainability director.

We ushered through ordinances requiring energy efficiency and LEED certification on City buildings.

We participated in the Carbon Disclosure Project and received recognition as being an innovative city in their Global Report.

We converted traffic lights to LED.

We passed a no idling ordinance.

The Airport has state's largest natural gas fleet.

We promote urban gardens.

Diversity. I hired the first woman airport director, city counselor, and head of public works. I hired the first African American airport director, the first African American Board of Public Service president, and the first African American operations director. The highest paid person in city government is a woman. The second highest paid is African American.

St. Louis was one of 11 cities to get a perfect score for Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Transgender equality.  Our City was also named by The Advocate as one of the “gayest cities in America”
My administration has awarded almost $100-million in contracts to minority owned and disadvantaged companies.

I ushered through legislation to put more minority workers and city residents to work on City public works projects, and expanded it to TIF projects with an executive order.

I created the Vanguard Cabinet, made up of nearly 100 young City residents. They actively guide my policies.

I am part of a group fighting to save Gateway Bank; a historic institution that at one time was the only bank that would lend money to African Americans.

I partnered with County Executive Charlie Dooley and others to create a regional task force to make St. Louis much more welcoming to immigrants.

We changed City pension law so that same sex partners would be eligible for death benefits.

The City has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in low income neighborhoods creating thousands of homes and apartments since I took office.

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

Almost everything I have accomplished, I have done so in concert with our citizens, non-profits, small businesses, corporations, and committed volunteers. The City’s summer teen jobs program is a great example. Charitable organizations, the business community, foundations and my office are working together to raise $1-million to pay our young people to work, and are finding employees who can give them meaningful work for their pay.

It is a big undertaking. It will only be successful if we all decide that every teenager has value, and that we are committed to making their lives better. One person, no matter how well intentioned, can do it alone.

Here’s another example. Too many pet owners are irresponsible. They allow their dogs to run free putting other dogs and people at risk. So, we formed a partnership with Randy Grim and Stray Rescue. The result is a modern, clean, safe animal control center. It has also resulted in an almost 50% increase in animal pickups, far more adoptions, and far fewer euthanizations.

6.    Recently the 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?

As a city, we have too many lines dividing us. The fewer lines, the less division we will have. The less we are divided, the stronger we will be.

I support the reduction in the size of the Board of Aldermen. Under the current system, virtually everything in the City is divided 28 ways. That often makes it impossible to make neighborhood improvements at a scale large enough to make a difference and to be sustainable.

Likewise, as a region, we have too many lines dividing us. So, I support merging the City and County economic development agencies. I also support the City re-entering St. Louis County as a municipality.

7.    What is your opinion of Paul McKee's Northside Regeneration Project?  If he builds all that Class A office space, where will the tenants come from?  Do you believe this large scale project will be more effective than smaller, grass roots development of the area; why or why not?

As the Post Dispatch put it, “what if Paul McKee succeeds?” Yes, his vision is big. Yes, there is a chance he will fail. Yes, there is a chance that no one else with money will take the chances he is taking because he is trying to reverse six decades of suburban flight, disinvestment, racism, and bad policy decisions. It is a tall order.

The public price to rebuild the neglected and abandoned infrastructure-- roads, bridges, sewers, sidewalks, and curbs-- is a high one. But, it will come from new revenue generated from the project itself. It will not hurt anything happening elsewhere in the City. More importantly, what price have we already paid-- and what price have the citizens of the project area already paid?

If he succeeds, it will mean new housing-- both middle class and low income. It will mean new schools, badly needed jobs, and rebuilt sustainable neighborhoods.

8.    What are your specific plans for phasing in local control of the police department?  How would you address concerns about effective civilian review?

Getting local control is an example of a mayor being relentless and our perseverance paid off. 

I know the current chief very well. Sam Dotson worked in my office for a year and a half. He and I have a good relationship. So, we are already moving towards the transition.

But, it is vitally important that the transition go smoothly and seamlessly.

My number one goal now, leading up to and after the transition is to focus the department on making every neighborhood safe. That is by far the largest challenge we face.

The transition and reducing crime should be the department’s top priorities. Once we have made progress there, we can address other issues.

9.    What impact can the Mayor’s Office have on the education situation in St. Louis City and what have / would your initiatives in this area include?

Quality schools are the foundation for workforce development and citizenship.  The needs of our local economy are no different than that of the global economy.  In order for a city to prosper, it must be able to create a ready workforce; one that is made of diverse, knowledgeable learners.  Schools must provide all children with a pathway to prosperity by providing them with the rigorous and relevant curriculum necessary to compete in today's world.  Schools must develop the character and citizenship of young people to shoulder the civic responsibilities required of a democracy. I expect all schools - public, private and parochial - to meet a standard of excellence. 

I promote and defend access to free, quality public education for all. Too many children live in neighborhoods where the local schools are sub-standard.  Many neighborhoods were simply abandoned by the public schools system altogether, leaving families feeling their only options were to pay tuition to private schools or move. 

I work with parents and community leaders to help them find and open good public schools in their neighborhoods.  I attract good schools to high poverty areas on behalf of their residents. I work with developers to expand schools into vacant and dilapidated buildings and to start new housing development in areas with good schools.

Through my leadership, Teach for America (TFA) came to St. Louis. Because of  my commitment to quality, and the development of new public school options, the City is attracting talented education entrepreneurs to St. Louis.   Now hundreds of TFA corps and alumni live here, helping to lead schools, teach in classes, open new business and guide area non-profits.  ArchGrants have added "education entrepreneur" grants in support of this growing population and to promote solutions that will address barriers to student success.

I cast a vision that all children in St. Louis will be ready by age 21 (ready for college, career and life).  I believe that all of our children have a right to reach their full potential. I know that for children to succeed in school, they must be healthy and safe.  I established a Commission on Children, Youth and Families to bring advocates, providers and philanthropy together to create a common vision and to work together to assure our children have the education, health, safety and services they need.  Today, early childhood, juvenile justice, foster care, education, social services sectors are working together in new ways, resulting in significant improvements.  We have seen the reduction of lead paint poisoning, truancy and dropouts, and the increase in the supply, quality and access to childcare, preschool, after school, job training and public schools.
10.    What have we learned from the failure of the Imagine Schools and what can we do to prevent such situations in the future?  How can we ensure charter school accountability?

The promise of charter schools is that they will either perform or they will be closed.  We are holding area charter schools to that promise. It was through the leadership of my office that Imagine Schools were shut down.  I engaged business leaders, state education officials and local community leaders to design a strategy that would close these bad schools. I also worked with these stakeholders to assist families in finding a better option. 
Transparency and accountability will prevent situations like Imagine from repeating.  The Mayor's RFP and Charter School Review process does both. We established a board of citizens to review all applications submitted for my review.  This board includes experts in education, special education law, workforce development, finance, and community development. This board also interviews the potential governing board to determine its capacity to open and lead a public school.  A copy of the charter application is sent to the St. Louis Public Schools for its review prior to the Mayor's decision to endorse. Sponsors now seek my endorsement prior to their consideration.  None of this occurred prior to our involvement.

My office worked with DESE, sponsors and the Missouri Charter Public School Association in crafting additional accountability standards, now established in Missouri State law.  The Mayor's charter school review process is in continual renewal, increasing its standards and expectations for new applicants.

There's actually more accountability in charter schools than in district schools.  Charter schools must follow both state laws relating to education law and to Missouri not-for-profits.  Schools are audited annually.  They report all enrollment, financial and academic data to their board of directors, their sponsor and to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.  They are subject to Missouri Sunshine laws.

With Imagine schools, the accountability worked.

11.    What are your thoughts on St. Louis City’s response to the recent Occupy Movement?  Are there things we could have done better in that situation?

Civil disobedience is part of the American fabric of life. People who engage in civil disobedience know that their purpose in peacefully breaking the law is to get arrested to bring attention to their cause. With Occupy, as with all other movements that take part in civil disobedience, we worked with the protesters to ensure their constitutional rights were protected, and that if they chose to peacefully break the law to make a point that they would be safe and free from harm.

Others in Occupy did not want to get arrested. We gave them a wide berth to express their views and to be heard. We met with them to address their concerns, to help them fulfill their goals within the law, and to guarantee their constitutional rights to free speech and assembly. And, we ensured that everyone was treated with respect. We were criticized for not getting tougher with Occupy. But, I think we were right in allowing them to be heard and express their opinions.

12.    What steps would you recommend taking to balance the City’s pension obligations and overall budget?

The City’s pension costs have eaten up every single dollar of growth in the City budget in the last 11 years. That has meant higher taxes and less money for public safety, children’s services, parks, affordable housing, and neighborhood services.

We citizens have a choice. Make no changes and pay even higher taxes and get even less services. Or, make common sense changes to hold down future rising costs.

The plan I put forward for the Firemen’s Retirement System, for instance, accomplishes that.
For retired and vested firefighters, there will be no changes. Non-vested firefighters will keep everything they have earned to date. Going forward, they will see three changes in their pensions. They will have to wait until age 55 until they can draw down on their pension without an actuarial reduction. They will contribute 1% more of their pay into the pension system, and the money will remain in the system to pay benefits. And, they will have tighter eligibility requirements for their disability pensions.

Doing nothing--or worse, passing a fake plan that produces no real change-- will hurt the quality of life in our City.

13.    What have / would you do to raise the prominence of St. Louis nationally?

Just over a year ago Aaron Perlut, a St. Louis transplant, decided to write an article for Forbes magazine entitled, "St. Louis Doesn't Suck". The impetus for Aaron's thesis was his frustration with the seeming lack of pride St. Louisans held for their City and the external misunderstanding of St. Louis’ finer qualities by fellow urban cores across America.

"St. Louis Doesn't Suck" resulted in hundreds of thousands of views, comments, and opinions on the health and possibility of St. Louis. From those discussions, Rally St. Louis was born as a web-based platform to empower the residents of St. Louis to help shape the future and perception of their City.

Unlike traditional efforts managed by a single organization, Rally Saint Louis is designed as a grassroots movement guided and supported (financially) by its most valuable asset– its people. Rally St. Louis uses a crowd-sourcing and crowd-funding model to select the projects that are submitted and voted on by St. Louisans (crowd-sourcing) and subsequently paid for in monetary pledges by St. Louisans (crowd-funding).

Aaron and his partner Brian Cross brought the Rally concept to me asking for my endorsement and support as the platform was developed. Since the roll-out of Rally St. Louis in November 2012, I have been a strong proponent and advocate for the success of the initiative. Further, I have pledged the City’s support in helping the Rally board implement their first projects in 2013.

14.    If you could ask each of your opponents one question, what would it be? (You may specify a different question for each opponent or the same question for both.)

If I have a question for Mr. Reed, I will call and ask him. If I have a question for Mr. Matthews, I will call and ask him.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's not fair that the City spends tax money on schools that goes to private companies. Use this tax money to improve public schools. Not enrich private corporations. And Charter schools should be open to any and all students. They should not be able to discriminate against students and select who they want to attend. If they are supported by my tax money they should have to accept any and all children who want to attend.