South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

Abstentions shouldn’t be miscounted as ‘no’ votes


The Crestwood Board of Aldermen decided in a 5-3 vote in September to count abstentions as no votes.

This may seem like one of those “inside baseball”-type decisions that has no impact on the everyday Crestwood resident, and it may never even be used.

But this decision could have a huge impact on the city at some later date when a divisive issue comes up. This allows the mayor to declare a tie if half the board abstains from a vote, then cast the deciding vote.

Typically, an alderman can vote yes or no on something, or abstain if they feel they have a conflict of interest.

In our experience across South County, yes, some board members abstain from a vote when they don’t want to vote for it, but don’t want to vote against it either.

But counting abstentions as no votes — or more accurate, trying to count them as no votes — has already been settled in court, after a lengthy legal battle funded by South County taxpayer dollars. Then-St. Louis County Circuit Court Judge Kenneth Romines ruled in September 1999 that “abstentions are not votes and cannot be counted as such to satisfy the statutory requirements for enactment of ordinances.”

The ruling came out of what might be the biggest issue in the 20-year history of the city of Green Park: Near the city’s beginning, Home Depot approached the city wanting to build a big-box store along South Lindbergh Boulevard with tax-increment financing.

The issue divided the city’s six-member Board of Aldermen with half voting “yes” and half abstaining, but then-Mayor Larry Kuban counted the abstentions as “no” votes and broke the tie in favor of granting Home Depot the TIF.

Crestwood may have better legal standing by enacting a formal ordinance, but to us, this issue is settled, with enough South County tax dollars spent on the issue along the way.

Should aldermen be strategically abstaining when they really should just vote no? We vote no on that. But sometimes an alderman has a legitimate reason to abstain, and this bill might discourage that because they will be essentially voting no.

If voters don’t like how an alderman votes, they can vote them out at the next election. We don’t believe that a city should make assumptions about votes before they’re taken. Three aldermen agree with us. And Crestwood doesn’t need any more court battles, now or in the future.

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