St. Louis County Proposition C: County voters will decide on new Charter Aug. 4

St. Louis County Proposition C: County voters will decide on new Charter Aug. 4

By Erin Achenbach, Staff Reporter

St. Louis County residents voting in the election Tuesday, Aug. 4 will not only be deciding primary races for county executive and governor, but whether or not to adopt a new Charter.

St. Louis County Proposition C, if passed by a simple majority of voters, would repeal the county’s current Charter and replace it with an amended document, as proposed by the Charter Commission in December after weekly meetings over the course of nearly a year.

The 20 Charter changes are mostly technical, since all the major proposals the commission was considering didn’t make it to the ballot.

The Charter is the constitution-like document that governs county government. The current Charter was approved by voters in 1978 and adopted in 1979, with minimal changes since then.

Most proposals approved for the ballot were not substantive changes, such as switching to gender-neutral nouns throughout the Charter, changing the name of the Department of Highways and Traffic to the Department of Transportation and merging the Department of Public Works with the transportation department.

The language of the Charter needed an update to a more gender-neutral version, commission members decided, because the county executive, County Council members, council chair and vice chair, department directors and even the county auditor and accounting officer are repeatedly referred to as “he” in the current version. Although there has never been a female county executive, the current council is majority female.

Other additional amendments include expanding the time the county executive has to submit a proposed budget to the County Council to 90 days from 60 days, moving the Board of Zoning Adjustment from Public Works to the Department of Planning and automatically impaneling a Charter Commission every 10 years rather than having voters decide whether they want a commission to convene.

Also, in the wake of historically high property value assessment last summer, a proposal that would allow the Board of Equalization to expand to four boards comprised of three members when there is a high number of reassessment appeals was also approved for the ballot.

Other proposals approved by the commission for the ballot include:

• Requiring the parks director to have a degree in parks and recreation or a related field.

• Add registered voter and residency requirements for boards and commissions; county executive will have to evaluate boards and commissions annually

• Changing the start date for terms for elected officials from Jan. 1 of the year after the election to the second Tuesday in January. Currently the county holds its inauguration ceremonies Jan. 1.

• In the event that the county executive position is vacant if the executive dies, is recalled or convicted of a felony, the County Council chair would serve as the acting executive until the council appoints a successor at the second council meeting.

• Changing the number of signatures needed to recall the county executive, assessor or prosecuting attorney from 20 percent to 10 percent of the total votes cast for governor in the last election.

• Update the language in the Charter about the function of the health department.

Nine out of the 14 members of the commission had to vote in favor of a proposal for the proposal to be placed on the ballot.

At the commission’s last meeting in December 2019, the panel decided by a vote of 9-5 to introduce the proposals as an entirely separate and new Charter for county residents to vote on, rather than having them vote on each individual proposal.

“Really we’ve just kind of updated the Charter. There isn’t anything controversial so far as I can see. And if there was, we’d separate it out from the package,” said commission Chairman and former County Executive Gene McNary at the last meeting. “Since there isn’t anything, why not just submit the package all or nothing to the voter?”

The commission also opted to place the Charter rework on the Aug. 4 ballot, reasoning that voters who vote in April and August elections are typically better-educated on the issues and would take the time to read the changes.

The Charter Commission met weekly throughout 2019 after county voters decided in November 2018 to impanel the commission, which the Charter allows them to do every 10 years.

The commission, which was comprised of 14 members, half appointed by the council and half by the county executive, did not agree to give voters the chance to weigh in on any of the major proposals it considered along the way, such as changing to a council-manager form of county government, outlining minimum standards for police departments in the county and making the county auditor an elected position.

See the full proposed new Charter below:

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