Our view remains the same on county boundary panel

By Mike Anthony

With an Oakville steering committee exploring the idea of breaking off from St. Louis County and forming a new county, it’s time to revisit the colorful history of the St. Louis County Boundary Commission.

At least twice in the mid-1990s, the Missouri Supreme Court declared that laws establishing the Boundary Commission were unconstitutional — first for violating the Missouri Constitution’s prohibitions against special laws and again for violating the Constitution because the law applied only to St. Louis County and no other first-class county.

A later incarnation of the Boundary Commission was abolished in 1999 under legislation signed by then-Gov. Mel Carnahan. The panel’s abolishment essentially rendered three lawsuits involving the commission moot.

Ironically, one of those suits involved the county suing the Boundary Commission, contending the panel exceeded its statutory authority in enacting rules for petitions submitted by areas wishing to stay unincorporated.

A second suit had the Boundary Commission suing the county over the County Council’s decision to cut its 1999 budget by $70,000.

The legislation signed by Gov. Carnahan also authorized the County Council to establish a “new and improved” Boundary Commission. In July 1999, the County Council voted to establish the current incarnation of the Boundary Commission, which by no means is new and improved — just more of the same.

Our view of the commission hasn’t really changed since it was re-established: It’s unconstitutional on its face because it serves as a barrier to the constitutional right of citizens to petition their government for change.

Any group of citizens that gathers the signatures of 15 percent of registered voters who cast ballots in a gubernatorial election should be able to place a proposal on a ballot, yet the commission serves as a barrier to that right.

While the Oakville steering committee is considering forming a new county, it also is looking at incorporation and annexation. But either option would require the Boundary Commission’s blessing.

Rep. Marsha Haefner, R-Oakville, has introduced a bill that would allow any unincorporated area in St. Louis County to bypass the Boundary Commission and incorporate under the state’s regular municipal incorporation laws if the city of St. Louis becomes a city within St. Louis County.

We urge the Legislature to pass Haefner’s measure — House Bill 1638.