Report highlights the opportunity and economic costs of a region with hundreds of officials
St. Louis, MO (January 6, 2016) – The newest General Administration Study from the nonprofit research group Better Together examines how the St. Louis region functions with such a large number of municipal officials. All told, there are 684 elected municipal officials for a region of 1.3 million people. To put this in perspective, the population of elected officials is greater than the population of 16 existing municipalities and larger than the populations of the five smallest municipalities combined.
The size of municipalities’ governing body ranges widely, as does the number of aldermen. Of the 571 aldermen in the region, more than half (296) represent a population of less than 1,000 residents, and over a third (196) represent a population of less than 500 residents.
The study points out that, while constituency size and compensation vary among aldermen, each wields significant power. “Aldermen have the authority to do a lot, including hiring the judge and prosecutor for their municipal court,” said Dave Leipholtz, Director of Community-Based Studies for Better Together.
Additionally, the 90 municipalities in St. Louis County not only have mayors (whose salaries range from zero to more than $135,000), but they also have city managers, administrators, or clerks. In many municipalities, mayors serve in a part-time capacity, with these officials handling the day-to-day operations. In total, the St. Louis region pays $5,782,093 in total annual salaries to the top city manager, administrator, or clerk in the 90 municipalities of St. Louis County.
However, it is not the elected officials who exercise the most power in the municipalities. Better Together’s new report finds that city attorneys play perhaps the most significant, influential role in municipal governance. Data included in the report shows that a single law firm of just nine attorneys provides city attorneys for 27 municipalities, or nearly one-third of all the municipal governments in the region. These same attorneys also serve as the prosecutor in 12 of the same municipalities. In the City of Manchester, the city attorney also serves as the municipal judge. In all, a group of only 14 attorneys serve as the city attorney for more than half of our region’s local governments.
“What we’re looking at is a core group of unelected individuals who play a variety of influential rules throughout the municipal system,” said Leipholtz. “Combine that with the fact that there are 131 separate municipal meetings each month, where important decisions regarding the future of the St. Louis region are made by 571 aldermen and 91 mayors – many of whom barely know or have never met their counterparts in other municipalities.”
Municipalities are part of a connected metropolitan region, and cannot simply operate in a vacuum. Every St. Louis resident travels through or visits dozens of municipalities in the region. Our current structure negatively impacts St. Louis’ ability to form a coherent, effective, and achievable regional plan. To read the full report, please go to www.bettertogetherstl.com/generaladministration .