What’s Special About Special Session for Mayor Sly James

Yesterday, Governor Jay Nixon put out the call for special session before the Missouri General Assembly. Much of the desired success deals with matters involving the St. Louis region. Yet much of the responsibility for failure, if the session stalls this September, will fall into the lap of Kansas City Mayor Sly James.

Among the eleven items specific to Governor Nixon’s legislative call was this one:

“To enact legislation authorizing an orderly transition in the governance of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department from a board of police commissioners to the City of St. Louis through a process that provides for equitable employment treatment for commissioned and civilian personnel.”

This past regular legislative session, an unprecedented coalition of grassroots constituencies emerged thanks in part to A Safer Missouri giving all citizens a strong voice. Such groups rallied to work out what became “an equitable treatment for commissioned and civilian personnel” impacted by restoring local control to the voters of St. Louis City. During the final days of session, consensus became clear that both the leadership and the rank-and-file within our public safety programs were eager to put Civil War history behind us.

Unique to Governor Nixon’s call is that while the Revised Statutes of Missouri within Chapter 84 deal with both Kansas City and St. Louis City, his request deals only with the chapters relevant to St. Louis City. This means local government interests in Kansas City that may have a different time table would be allowed to advance on their own terms if only the St. Louis legislation were enacted.

If you’re like the Kansas City Star, rooting for local police control within the City of Fountains, then perhaps special session is not for you. However, if you’re Kansas City Mayor Sly James, you should be booking your Jefferson City hotel stays after Labor Day.

Here’s why:

If the Missouri General Assembly fails to restore local control despite repeat consensus among all interested parties this year, it is likely that one of four initiative petitions will advance to the statewide ballot. Those petitions would restore local control not only for St. Louis City, but for Kansas City as well. Moreover, the language found within these petitions filed prior to the General Assembly compromise would not apply as it would have under a state legislative remedy.

The language, if advanced to the people’s ballot, is quite short and direct:

“Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to:

Require that all municipal police forces or departments be controlled by the municipal governing body where the police force or department is located; and
Require the governing body of any city whose municipal police force or department was under state control, currently St. Louis and Kansas City, to maintain the terms of any existing pension plan for current or retired officers or employees of such police force or department who were hired prior to November 6, 2012?

Local governmental entities estimated savings from this proposal of at least $7.8 million, but the total potential savings is unknown. It is estimated the proposal would have no cost or savings to state governmental entities.”

Special session has to be special for Mayor Sly James of Kansas City – that is, if his office desires some freedom to operate within its windows of time with City Council. If Mayor James doesn’t advocate for this practical short-run solution for St. Louis in Jefferson City, he will be inviting many others to intervene in his Kansas City budget and safety priorities for the rest of his term.

Here’s hoping that our Kansas City leadership comes back to the State Capitol, and brings with them some Gates barbecue – so that the only “burnt ends” there aren’t political.

Travis H. Brown is a registered Missouri State Lobbyist for “A Safer Missouri” and “Rex & Jeanne Sinquefield.”