Our Call: South County needs more than one single Freeholder

An Editorial from Call Newspapers

We were as hopeful as anyone about the Board of Freeholders, the once-in-a-generation city-county board that is convening to decide whether to change the way the region operates.

But we have to officially oppose the appointments because South County is already being ignored in the process, with a single seat at the table.

South County has one freeholder,  and unincorporated St. Louis County gets one. But unincorporated South County doesn’t get one at all.

That sounds about right for those who have closely followed how officials in Clayton, and now possibly downtown St. Louis, have historically ignored South County. But we hoped this time would be different.

The problem isn’t just relegated to South County, either. Unincorporated St. Louis County residents, who are also from the unincorporated area of North County around Spanish Lake, make up about a third of the county’s population of a million, and would be about one-fourth of the population of the combined city and county.

But their representation on the Board of Freeholders is one out of 19. That’s ludicrous by any calculation.

As required by the state Constitution, St. Louis city gets nine freeholders even though its population has dwindled to a third of the county. The 6th District itself makes up more than half the population of the city, but will get a ninth of the representation.

The rest of the state, through the delegate of Gov. Mike Parson, will also have as much representation as these hardworking South County and unincorporated residents.

Tell us how that’s fair, and tell us how a county executive who was truly looking out for the interests of South County could have made this miscalculation. Instead, County Executive Sam Page appointed multiple residents of Ladue and multiple residents of Richmond Heights.

Unincorporated residents have different outcomes and interests in any prospective city-county merger or collaboration than residents of cities, who in some forms of merger will be protected by the cities they live in. But unincorporated residents only have St. Louis County, and they only have Page — and the County Council.

Page seemed to recognize that with the Oakville Democrats last week when he said unincorporated areas “have needs that are much different than residents who are in municipalities. We try to be sensitive to that.”

But the day before, he’d appointed eight of nine freeholders from cities.

We applaud the selection of the one South County delegate, Katy Forand of Sunset Hills, who understands the unique issues facing unincorporated areas. We just don’t think she should have to serve South County alone, and we hope the council represents residents who have no one else to turn to but Page, who has failed them in this instance, by rejecting one or more of his non-South County appointees.

When Page took office in April, he acknowledged that he wasn’t very well known throughout the county due to the unique circumstances in which he took office. But he promised to rectify that by appearing at a series of town halls across the county. So far, he’s made appearances at town halls in North County and Central County, but not South County.

We do, however, give him credit for signing his first bill while in office at Hancock High School. What was extraordinary about that moment was that it taught students about one of the oldest and most important aspects of American life — participation in their government.

It was a great moment in the history of St. Louis County. It’s equally unfortunate that he denied those same students, their families, neighbors and every other resident of unincorporated South County that same right to participation in their government.