Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Response from Megan Ellyia Green, Candidate for President of the Board of Aldermen

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 President of the Board of Aldermen has several key roles; casting a deciding vote at the Board of Estimate and Apportionment, a vote that often has far-reaching effects on the city’s budget and major financial decisions; assigning Committee positions, which can play a vital role in what legislation moves forward, and what legislation dies in committee; and setting the legislative agenda for the board, through various methods. For this election, the key role of the President of the Board will be to help steer our city through unprecedented challenges, between the proposed privatization of our airport, upcoming ward reduction and redistricting, and the possibility of a merged, regional government at the hands of a statewide vote.

We cannot lead through these times via backroom deals and big-moneyed players, as this time is too crucial to have anyone other than the residents of this city in the driver’s seat. The person that takes on this role must be strong, determined, and ready to fight for those who often have no voice and no seat at the table. A good leader understands the need for compromise, but a great leader knows when a compromise is just a cover for a plan that benefits a connected few, at the expense of many. I feel the most important attribute needed for this role is integrity. As President, it will always be my goal, and duty, to work for the people, and end the cycle of corruption in City Hall once and for all.

2. Why do you think you are the best person for President of the Board of Aldermen? What experience and attributes do you have that qualifies you for the position? What differentiates you from your opponent(s)?

When I moved to St. Louis, 14 years ago, I would have never dreamed of answering a question like this. And, in that time, between my work in education, and my time serving as the 15th Ward Alderwoman for the past 4 years, I’ve seen a city that is run by lobbyists and political insiders. One can simply look at my donor reports, and you will see a people-powered campaign, fueled by small contributions from all across this city. I know when you look at the donor reports filed by my opponents, they will look vastly different than mine, filled with large contributions from lobbyists and Corporate PACs, groups I’ve long since pledged to steer clear of. I know we are ready for a change, and we are ready for a leader who is not beholden to those special interests, and not beholden to the same political establishment who has led us to where we are today. I know, that with the continued backing and support of people all over this city, I will be able to challenge those systems, and I will be ready to lead on day one, because the people will have my back. I am the only candidate in this race who will be held accountable by my constituents, and my constituents alone. Big-moneyed interests won’t find a home in my administration.

My experience for this role comes from working in education, it comes from attending neighborhood meetings and taking constituent calls, it comes from my neighbors and friends, and from my family, my mom and dad, who helped make me who I am today, and it certainly comes from my years at the Board of Aldermen, seeing what works, and more importantly, seeing what doesn’t work. Often, when I see “progress”, it’s for the benefit of one or two individuals, and usually at the expense of the rest of our great city. I’m different, because it won’t be business as usual when I am President of the Board of Aldermen. My record, to date, proves that, and I’m ready to lead.

3. What do you feel are the most important issues facing the city and this office? What plans do you have to address them? Please be specific.

While there are many issues facing this city, three key issues I plan to focus on are improving public safety, encouraging community-oriented development, and to work to create a government people can trust and rely on, and a Board that works for the people.

Public safety is almost always the first thing that comes to mind when people talk about the issues facing this city. While the perspective on that topic may be different, depending on where in the city you’ve lived, the common thread is that people want to feel safe, and they want to find solutions to ending the violence that plagues so much of our city. We currently spend over 60% of our budget on public safety, and rank as one of the highest in the nation in the number of police per capita. And, with a homicide rate that consistently takes one of the top slots in the nation each year, and with less than half of our homicides solved over the past decade, it’s clear that what we are doing just isn’t working. I want to look at the model that was introduced in Richmond, California, Operation Peacemaker, that has made dramatic improvements, and saw a decrease in their crime rates by over 60% in just five years. This model uses evidenced based methods to identify people likely to commit or become victims of gun violence; it then connects them with job training, mentorship and social services, while deploying outreach teams to intervene in conflicts. It also creates a Fellowship Program, so that after six months, its subjects are eligible for additional benefits. The office that administers the program maintains a firewall between the program and law enforcement, and doesn’t share with police the intelligence it has gathered about its fellows, and, in turn, has helped to build trust and create real, positive changes. Implementing a program like this, while adding social workers to our police department to link people with services, and beginning to address the root causes of crime, will re-envision what public safety looks like in St. Louis.

Development matters are often a bulk of the bills we hear at the Board, and history shows who that has been benefitting. Over a 15-year period, more than 70% of all tax incentives issued in the City of St. Louis were allocated in the three most affluent wards, all located in the Central Corridor. During the same time, this area lost over 50% of its African American population. This is not acceptable. Our current approach to development allows developers to sit in the driver’s seat. As such, they tend to invest in areas of our city where they can make the most profit with the least amount of risk. Incentives should be used to promote development in areas of the city where development would not otherwise occur. Unfortunately, due to our current, broken system, we continue to incentivize luxury projects, with prices out of the reach of most residents, giving tax breaks back to those who need it the least, and further depleting the resource pool meant for our already struggling public institutions and schools.

The first step to correct this problem is to have a city-wide plan for development that is based on the needs of our communities. Second, we need to codify, into law, what levels of tax incentives developers are eligible for based on the needs of the community, not the connections they may have to political insiders and members of the Board of Aldermen. Third, we need to have a city-wide plan requiring the use of Community Benefit Agreements, for projects over a certain threshold, that is legally binding, and that has been developed by stakeholders in the community, not politicians. Only then, will we begin to ensure that developments are meeting the needs of their communities, rather than communities being forced to meet the needs of developers.

I canvassed all 28 wards in 28 days as a part of this campaign, and this is something that I am committed to do at least annually, once elected. I think that the best way to hear from the people is to do so on their front porches, in their living rooms, and backyards, in the schools, and in the parks, in the community centers, and in the senior centers. Not everyone can make neighborhood meetings, but the voices of those who can’t, also matter, and I will always strive to make sure those voices are heard in City Hall. I want people to be involved, I want people to feel that they have a voice in city government. I want us to be open and transparent. I want to promote Board meetings, increase attendance, and ultimately help peel back years of disenfranchisement that has helped lower voter turnout and engagement, and created a cloud of distrust over 1200 Market St, and beyond.

4. The police-involved shootings of Michael Brown, VonDerrit Myers, Anthony Lamar Smith, and others have made our region a focal point of civil unrest arising from decades of racial inequality, economic inequality, and abusive-and sometimes fatal-policing practices that disproportionately target black men. What can you do as President of the Board of Aldermen to address these issues? What lessons have we learned, or should we have learned, from these shootings, and the subsequent unrest in our region?

These police-involved shootings have indeed focused attention on racial inequality, economic disparity, and policing practices in the St. Louis region. Although national attention to these issues is new, the issues themselves are not, and we have learned that there are significant gaps in our communities. We have witnessed the effects that 200 years of institutionalized racism, disguised as zoning and housing policy, have 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 nor protected by our police. We have learned how a poverty stricken individual’s inability to pay a speeding ticket can land them in jail for weeks, and 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 and witnessed so much, we have a responsibility to change our City, and our region, in order to ensure equal opportunity and access for all. This means being aware that these disparities exist, and continually evaluating our public policy decisions to ensure that we are not making these disparities worse.

From that, we developed a plan for our region, the Ferguson Commission Report, yet, after years of review and discussion, very few of the recommendations have actually been implemented. I feel this has given us a good guideline for how to move forward, and to begin to undo the policies that have continued a pattern of injustice for decades.

As President of the Board of Aldermen, I would work to use the Ferguson Commission Report as a guideline for future legislation, I would assure we view all policies through a racial equity lens, and I would continue to seek input from the community, especially those most affected by our years of a “tough on crime” stance that has often been tougher on those it was supposedly trying to help than anyone else.

5. St. Louis City voters approved reducing the number of wards and Aldermen from 28 to 14. How do you feel about this change? As President of the Board, what will be your approach to the anticipated ward reduction? 

Over 61% of voters approved Prop. R in 2012, and I think it is unlikely, in the case of a re-vote, 60% of voters would decide to reverse that decision, and amend the Charter back to keeping 28 wards. Therefore, I think that it is best that we begin to have the necessary, and likely very difficult, discussions about how to create an equitable redistricting plan - something that needs to happen, regardless of the number of wards.

To create an equitable plan, I think we should follow the lead of CLEAN Missouri, which passed overwhelmingly in November, receiving over 80% of the vote in the City of St. Louis. To this end, the Board of Aldermen should not be in charge of drawing the lines; the lines need to be drawn to meet the needs of our community, not political interests and politicians. One way to achieve this would be to work with an organization like the Brennan Center for Justice, which specializes in equitable municipal redistricting, and contract with an independent demographer to draw the lines based upon community needs and centering historically marginalized communities. Just like CLEAN, preservation of minority representation should be prioritized as a central criteria for drawing new ward boundaries. Additionally, we need to transition the role of an Aldermen to a full-time position, and ensure that we have the staff necessary to not only provide robust and engaged constituent services, but also be effective legislators. The formula for allocating ward capital funds must also be changed to ensure that the wards with the greatest needs, such as high vacancy rates, greater acreage due to lower density, and higher crime rates, receive the most amount of money. Finally, the implementation of a publicly financed campaign option would ensure that grassroots candidates can compete against big-money backed candidates in these larger districts.

6. Public safety is always an important topic in the city. What does public safety mean to you? What roles do policing, social services, and economic development play in addressing public safety? What have you done to address public safety and crime in the city, and what will you do as President of the Board?

Studies and real-life examples from around the nation, and the world, have shown that policies that are “smart on crime” show much better results than ones that focus on being “tough on crime.” We cannot out-police our issues with crime, we instead need to reevaluate and reallocate funds away from a system that clearly isn’t working, and try a new, bold path forward. While 60% of the City’s General Fund is allocated to Public Safety, only .03% is spent on Health and Human Services. At the same time, St. Louis has some of the highest rates of infant mortality, STD/STIs, and gun violence in the Country, and in 2017, nearly 75% of the heroin overdose deaths in Missouri occured in our City. All of these issues can be addressed by greater investments in public health. Additionally, the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which funds homeless services, has been underfunded by at least $500,000, annually, for years now. This has been one of the primary reasons I’ve continually voted against our City budget each year. Not only must the AHTF be fully funded, our budget must pay back the funds that it is owed from past shortages, and increase its funding to ensure the shelter space needed to serve our unhoused population is in place, and fully operational. As stated previously, we have to broaden our definition of what public safety means to encompass access to housing, healthcare, jobs, education, and treatment.

7. What is your position on the proposed privatization of St. Louis Lambert Airport? Do you support a citywide public vote on this issue? What are your thoughts on privatization of city facilities and resources generally?

The President of Board of Aldermen will likely be the swing vote on the Board of Estimate and Apportionment, the body that will determine if the airport gets privatized or not. The President holds just one of three votes on this powerful Board, with the other two held by the Mayor, and the City Comptroller. As President, I will vote “no” on privatization, without hesitation, and I will encourage my colleagues to do the same.

Privatization rarely works out in the public’s best interest. It is a way to break unions, increase costs to consumers, and diminish oversight, all to maximize corporate profits. From day one, efforts to privatize our airport have been set up by political insiders, for political insiders. It’s easy to conclude that the fix is already in when the consultants contracted to “study” airport privatization only get paid if privatization moves forward. In fact, our current Board President has introduced a bill to discuss how the funds from privatization will be spent, before the study has even been completed, or a contract for privatization has been signed.

While it’s true that a sudden influx for cash into the City could help us address some of our most immediate needs, like meeting our pension obligations, or replacing aging equipment, it is still a short-term solution. Once again, we are kicking the can down the road, rather than addressing our very real budget issues with long-term solutions. Not only do I vow to never vote to sell off one of our city’s most valuable assets, I will continue to work towards stopping any efforts to advance this issue at the Board, and, at a minimum, assist in any way I can to assure the public will have their voices heard in this matter, by helping bring this to a public vote, if needed.

8. What are your views on a city/county merger? What terms would a merger deal need to have to get your support? Who do you think should get to decide whether there is a city/county merger?

One thing that most St. Louisans understand, from Carondelet to Carr Square, from Ferguson to Fenton, is that we are wasting money due to fragmentation. This fractured region cannot compete nationally or globally if we are too busy competing with the municipality down the road. In that sense, I support the ideas of reunification, or, at a minimum, increased regional collaboration.

To have a plan that works for the benefit of St. Louis City residents, such a plan would have to be created by the community, and must encourage marginalized people to have a voice, rather than be shut out from the discussion, outside of a boardroom door. We must ensure that communities of color, and historically marginalized communities, have strong representation in this process, and that the systems that are established in the creation of a new, collaborative, regional government, are designed to dismantle the vestiges of restrictive deed covenants, red-lining, and other racist policies that the St. Louis region has so famously pioneered. We can achieve many of these goals by simply following the recommendations of both the Ferguson Commission and Dismantling the Divide reports. To this end, a plan must also include a path to consolidate our fragmented school districts, and a way to reevaluate a system of educational funding that is based on a property taxes to ensure that all of our region’s children have access to a quality, public education, regardless of zip code.

My biggest point of concern with the Better Together proposal, is that it is led by right-wing billionaire, Rex Sinquefield, and the corporate community. I am the only candidate in this race who has never accepted campaign contributions from Rex and his affiliated PACs. His plans, as speculated, would force the elimination of the city’s earnings tax, which would force the City into bankruptcy overnight. This would inevitably result in efforts to not only privitize the airport, but other city services, like water distribution and trash collection. A merger also needs to be led by, and approved by, City and County residents, not by a statewide vote. Any initiative that could have such far-reaching, and long-lasting effects on our city simply must include the voice of the people affected by it the most. Anything else would be a travesty of justice.

9. How would you characterize present economic development policies in the City of St. Louis? What are we doing well and what needs to be changed? What type of reforms, if any, would like to see with the city’s policies towards tax abatement and tax increment financing (TIFs)?

The present economic development policies are developer-driven, that mostly focus on offering tax incentives and abatements to developers with direct ties to elected officials. While these policies offer us shiny new buildings throughout the city, they drain our public resources, fuel the issues of gentrification, and offer little to those residents and neighborhoods in the city that need it the most.

The first step to correct this problem is to have a city-wide plan for development that is based on the needs of our communities. Second, we need to codify into law what levels of tax incentives developers are eligible for based on the needs of the community, not the connections they may have to political insiders. Third, we need to have a city-wide plan requiring the use of Community Benefit Agreements, for projects over a certain threshold, that is legally binding, and that has been developed by stakeholders in the community, not politicians. Only then, will we begin to ensure that developments are meeting the needs of their communities, rather than communities being forced to meet the needs of developers.

10. In Spring 2017, St. Louis City voters rejected a proposal for a taxpayer-funded soccer stadium. In Fall 2018, a new soccer stadium proposal was put forward, which still includes public investment, although less than in the previous proposal. What do you think about the new soccer stadium proposal? Should there be a public vote on it? Generally, what approach should the city take when it comes to large-scale development proposals like stadiums? When should public votes be required?

In November, when I was given the opportunity to vote on the newly proposed MLS stadium, I voted 'no' on the resolution, one of just two people who did. There is a lot more nuance to these discussions than to simply be “for" or "against" something, which continues to be overlooked. The question before us that day was "what level of risk is the City willing to assume to procure an MLS team?"

When voters voted down the last soccer stadium, they told us that we could do better. While this deal before the Board is better than the one that voters rejected, I still do not believe that it is the best that we can do to protect the financial position of the City. When negotiating these deals we must start with our strongest position, as inevitability as negotiations continue, our position will be weakened.

This deal that is proposed by the ownership group is very similar to the MLS stadium in Minneapolis. The major difference is who has ownership of the stadium. In Minneapolis the ownership group has ownership of the stadium. In this deal, the City of St. Louis would be the owner, and assume associated long-term financial risks.

First, the financials for the this MLS deal cite two expansions of the stadium in the next 15 years without detailing who is responsible for paying for those expansions. More than likely, this will lead to the ownership group seeking bonds or other financing from the City to pay for these expansions, putting us in a similar position that we are with the Scottrade Center.

The stadium is projected to net $1.4 million in revenue to the City per year. Historically, with the exception of the Cardinals, who have many more games than soccer or football, the stadiums have failed to meet the financial projections, and often leave the next generation to deal with the debt, after those who benefitted are no longer on the hook. It is the failure of City government to look 15, 20, even 30 years into the future that has forced us into the financial position that we are in today as a City.

I do not think that the risk of us owning the stadium is worth the reward of possibly netting $1.4 million per year. I especially do not think we should assume such a financial liability for the city without a public and I do support a public vote on any stadium using public funds or foregoing revenue, since stadiums are not fulfilling a public need. I do not think that we are going to the table with the MLS with the best deal for taxpayers. We have the opportunity to not repeat the mistakes of the past. St. Louis owning the stadium is setting us down the same path we have been down before that has not worked out well for us.

I support MLS. I also support ensuring that the City is on the best financial footing both today, and in 30 years.

11. What is your view of the city’s financial situation? What changes would you propose to how the city allocates its budget? What other ideas do you have to improve city finances?

The City’s financial situation has certainly seen better days, but we have time to make the needed corrections before the situation becomes dire. Just recently, we saw our third credit downgrade in three years, and our overuse of tax incentives and public funding of stadiums has been cited as one of the reasons. In fact, after the Board passed the bonds for the Scottrade Center (now Enterprise Center), our credit rating as a City was downgraded because we used bonds to pay for "non essentials." This makes it more expensive for us to borrow money as a city. Additionally, the net position report that was just released, shows impending cash flow issues, especially if we have another recession, as anticipated.

When roughly 60% of our budget goes towards Public Safety, there’s little left to fund the programs that will get at the root causes of our problems. We need to look at long term solutions, both in how we budget and allocate our resources, but also in realizing that our problems will not be solved by a quick fix; more regressive sales taxes to fund more police and city infrastructure only exacerbates our issues over time. I want to make changes that will take our city into the future, not just band-aids to help get through the next election cycle.

Currently, there are open officer positions not being filled, that are funded, all while having one of the largest administrative police staff, per capita, of other comparable cities. I am also proposing an immediate shut down of the Medium Security Institution, otherwise known as ‘The Workhouse’, freeing up those funds to add stability to our budget, and funding programs that will help reduce crime and recidivism. There are a lot of inefficiencies, both in public safety, and throughout the City’s budget, and I look forward to reviewing the findings of State Auditor Galloway upon her completion of a full audit of the City’s books. From there, we can bring stakeholders together to plan for our future, and refocusing resources on things that will have long-term, positive effects on our city.

12. What impact can the President of the Board of Aldermen have on public education in the City of St. Louis? What initiatives do you have in this area?

Education has always been my passion. My first jobs in St. Louis were in education, and it had a huge impact on who I am today, and who I will be as the President of the Board of Aldermen. In many ways, the Board of Aldermen functions as a real estate development Board. The vast majority of bills that go through the Board are tax incentives and other various development initiatives, and those decisions directly impact our public schools and the amount of resources they have to work with. Everytime we make a decision to forego tax revenue in the form of developer incentives, our schools lose out on the revenue that they need to operate. We must be intentional in our use of incentives to ensure that our schools are supported with sufficient resources to provide a quality education to our children. In 2014, the Board of Aldermen cut $400,000 to St. Louis Public Schools for wrap-around services, that included after-school programs, GED classes and training, and parent engagement initiatives. This funding needs to be restored, and expanded upon, not decreased further, and I will fight hard to get that back in the budget on day one. I also support the creation of a new committee focused on education that specifically deals with how City Hall can better support the Public Schools and all children in the City of St. Louis, from birth through college.

13. Would you take action as President to make this city more friendly to migrants, especially undocumented migrants? If yes, what concrete policies would you put before the Board? If not, why not?

Because we have local control of our police department, we can dictate to them not to use their resources to collect information on immigration status that could be turned over to ICE. Our immigrant population has been a driving force in the revitalization of neighborhoods, and the start of many small businesses across the city, and we need to expand upon that, and we certainly should not be punishing those who come here to be part of the vibrant community we call home. I would expand our outreach to new populations of migrants, and continue to collaborate with groups such as the International Institute and Places for People, to ensure migrants have a network to rely on as they settle into their new city. One simple, yet symbolic way of welcoming newcomers is to make sure all City information and forms are available in different languages, not only for those already here, but in preparation for new populations as the demographics of migration change.

14. Describe how you work with others. How do you plan to involve city residents in the decision-making process? Do you make it a practice to collaborate and form coalitions with existing organizations that are concerned about an issue? Please provide an example. Additionally, how will you approach committee assignments for individual Alderpersons? 

A good government is a collaborative government. Those who are elected as representatives are there to represent the will of the people, and the best interests of the City. No elected official is an expert in every policy area, so it’s crucial we include not just residents, but experts, who can shed light on issues, and educate the public, and those who are in the position to make important decisions that will affect everyone in the city, and often, the region.

In the 15th Ward, I have implemented participatory budgeting, a process that empowers people to decide, together, how to spend public money in their community. This helps to deepen the roots of democracy, build stronger, more connected communities, and make public budgets more equitable and effective. This is a process that I would like to see taken city-wide, and implemented beyond just ward capital dollars, to create ongoing feedback and collaboration between communities and my office.

I would also like to see St. Louis follow the lead of Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba of Jackson, Mississippi, in developing “People’s Assemblies” to ensure that City government is responsive to the needs of our community. These assemblies recognize that the city doesn’t belong to elected officials, but rather to the people, and collectively, they become an integral part to holding elected officials accountable, and helps to push the agenda that the people want, not just the agenda of the wealthy and well-connected. With checks and balances such as that in place, we, as elected officials, must show up to hear concerns of our constituents, and then forward the agenda set by the people.

When I begin the process of preparing new legislation, or considering changes to existing laws, whether it’s on marijuana legalization or CBAs, I always start with the organizations working on the issue for guidance. In many cases, there may be several organizations doing work on the same issue, and I always try to find a way to bring them together, get the best minds on a topic in the room together, and work in a collaborative manner when it comes to finally drafting legislation. I want our decisions to come from research and cooperation, so we make the very best decisions for our community.

Committee assignments are a vital part of how legislation moves through the Board, and my years of experience there will allow me to make sure we have the right people in the right places. Prior to making those assignments, I will ask all Board members to complete a survey about which pieces of the Ferguson commission report they are interested in working on, what pieces of legislation they would like to see in the coming session, and what their goals are for both their ward, and for the city as a whole. That information will inform that my decisions on committee assignments are made in such a way that ensures our agenda moves forward.

15. Who are your three largest campaign contributors? Are there any donors from whom you will not accept campaign contributions?

As of today, my three largest contributors are Scott Intagliata, Jake Lyonfields, and Dave Boger, all individuals, all residents of the City. It’s important to me to have a campaign funded by a wide variety of people who care about the direction our city is heading. While I’m sure my opponents will argue that campaign contributions don’t influence their decisions, or their votes, that theory just doesn’t stand up. Because of that I refuse any contributions from Corporate PACs, big developers, and certainly any funds from Rex Sinquefield and his plethora of PACs.

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