A look back at last version of a Board of Freeholders

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Bill Milligan

My Call
By Bill Milligan, General Manager

All the talk about reviving the Board of Freeholders in the wake of the Better Together fiasco this year has me remembering 1991, when I served on the last edition of the Board of Freeholders as one of the county representatives.

My biggest memory of the experience, other than the many meetings, is that our board decided to place a Forest Park tax initiative before the voters that went down in flames.

At first I thought it was an honor to have been chosen by then-County Executive H.C. Milford to be a part of the board. But I never once was asked if there was anything I wanted to put before voters. There was, but I never got the chance to say what that was or why I wanted to put it to the people in St. Louis County and city for a yes or no vote.

Instead, there was a succession of speakers speaking at us, not with us. Milford told the county contingent before we even started not to consider a city-county merger, or reorganization as he called it.

I later found out I wasn’t named a freeholder because people wanted to know what I thought was important for South County or the region.

I was selected because at the time, I rented my home on Sheridan Road next to Jefferson Barracks Park.

The U.S. Supreme Court had ruled the Freeholder board unconstitutional before the board was formed because it excluded renters from participation.

Thus, the Board of Electors was born, with me as a member.

When I took my seat on the board I found out that its most significant action ever was the creation of the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District in the 1950s.

What else do I remember from those meetings 30 years ago? The Forest Park suggestion was given in our first meeting and voted on at our last, rendering the speeches by all the so-called experts in between pointless. I remember the then-chief financial officer of the city of St. Louis telling the board the best thing to do was nothing. I immediately thought, “Why does everybody make fun of this guy, I think he’s pretty smart.”

Voters rejected our one idea. So the only thing our Freeholders contributed to society was introducing future County Executive Charlie Dooley to St. Louis County voters. Charlie joined the board as a replacement for a member who dropped out.

As another Board of Freeholders is formed, I hope the next board at least has an opportunity to say what’s on their minds.