Better Together Study Contradicts Its Task-Force

The Missouri Council for a Better Economylater to adopt the fictitious name Better Together in 2013commissioned an intergovernmental collaboration study by The PFM Group in 2010. After conducting their in-depth research on St. Louis City and St. Louis County, the PFM researchers identified 35 initiatives that could improve services or create savings.

mc4be-btstl-study.pngThe PFM Group asserted the study only reflected their views and “that this study is in no way a consolidation study or a feasibility of consolidation analysis.”[1] The group did not analyze a full-scale merger as they could not find reason to study it given the “impact that [previous] failed attempts may have on the perception of efforts to further integrate the City and the County.”[2]

Toward the end of the 194 page study, researchers dedicated a large appendix section on past consolidation attempts so that readers could, “understand[...] why this report may call for incremental integration into intergovernmental collaboration at times, rather than full-fledged mergers of service delivery areaseven when a more aggressive approach may have made more sense for successful implementation in other regions.”[3]

They also reasoned that those, “past attempts can also provide for a form of lessons learned and support the incremental implementation of these efforts. In many cases, proceeding in increments will give the City and the County the time to ensure that each increment has stand-alone integrity and the chance to succeed independently from other potential intergovernmental initiatives.”[4]

In other words, researchers hired by Better Together recognized the difficult reality of boldly staring down history for a sixth attempt to merge the region.

The Better Together Task-Force flatly rejected their previous research by citing a values grid and asserting the need to, “be bold and transformativeincrementalism does not address the severity of the issues our region faces.”

The 163-page Better Together Task-Force generated report compiles executive summaries from previous Better Together reports and provides amendment policy language. The Task-Force did not include, nor did it appear to conduct, a consolidation feasibility study, rather they point to present failures in the current fragmented structure of St. Louis.

Both the commissioned researchers and Task-Force agree fragmentation is bad and that only a state-wide majority vote could adjust the current relationship between the City and the County.

However, what The PFM Group could not include in their 2011 report were the future recommendations by the Ferguson Commission, the For the Sake of All report, or the Segregation in St. Louis: Dismantling the Divide report. With the crisis in Ferguson, its following reports, the documentation of debtors’ prison and lessons of time, perhaps The PFM Group would have called for a more urgent and bolder stance more akin to the Task-Force recommendations.

Another key difference between the inaugural study and capstone Task-Force recommendations were their methodology and focus on public policy. The amendment language largely leaves designing details of consolidation to its transition mayors.

If the county and city do merge, Better Together would most likely provide recommendations to the transition executives on how to best design their new departments. Maybe the transition mayors could use this inaugural and poorly circulated report as a roadmap for integrating municipal services.

Was this the plan all along or will they ignore their own research again?


Further quotes from the 2011 report:

“While the City and the County may have access to various revenue streams, they are restricted in their ability to raise additional revenue without a ballot initiative approved by the residents in the given jurisdiction due to Hancock.” [5]

The fragmented nature of governance that currently dominates the region (a region that is often times dubbed as the ―poster region for fragmentation) only enables the duplication of services that may be performed by multiple local jurisdictions, not just the City and the County, within the St. Louis region.[6]

The City and the County alone can't agree to any action between themselves, nor can the State legislature or any other elected body – any proposal to adjust the current relationship must be approved by a state-wide majority vote.[7]

Many feel that citizens perceive regionalism to be some form of a merger between the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County or a merger of their municipality with another municipality where they will lose their local autonomy and be forced into ―giving something up or losing their control over a particular service delivery area.[8]

By changing the conversation and being open to innovative ways to maintain local autonomy while streamlining the delivery of duplicated services, leaders can foster a climate more conducive to a ―win-win” concept of regionalism.[9]

[1] pg. 16

[2] Pg. 12

[3] Pg. 16

[4] Pg. 16

[5] Pg. 16

[6] Pg. 13

[7] Pg. 16 (See Appendix D)

[8] Pg. 19

[9] Pg. 16 & 17