St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones reflects on the success and challenges of the first 100 days • Missouri Independent
It has been nearly 100 days since the mayor of St. Louis, Tishaura Jones, stood on the white marble staircase of the town hall rotunda and was sworn in as mayor, becoming the first black woman. to occupy this position.
The city has not always protected its children, she says in her inaugural speech, neither fought for every neighborhood nor placed equity at the center of city planning and development.
Saint-Louis is a very divided city. The northern half has suffered decades of divestment, while other parts of the city have benefited from tax incentives for development and job creation. North of Saint-Louis – where Jones grew up and currently lives – is also about 90 percent black.
Jones promised voters that as mayor she would “transform our city,” while admitting it wouldn’t be easy.
“I realize that I am stepping into an office tasked with solving some of our most pressing challenges: the lack of opportunities for our most vulnerable, a broken criminal justice system and a fractured region,” she said. .
Now that she’s approaching the 100-day milestone, Jones reflected on the veracity of those words during an interview with The Independent.
It highlights early progress on a number of fronts – the transfer of $ 4 million from the police to fund social programs, the zeroing of the budget for the controversial prison known as “Workhouse” and set a barrier for the city’s civilian oversight board to examine complaints against police officers.
But none have come without drama, with Jones pushing back criticism from state officials over accusations she was trying to “fund the police,” grappling with city officials opposing the shutdown. the Workhouse and argue with the chairman of the council of aldermen over his plans for federal stimulus funds. .
Jones says she spent her early days navigating awkward relationships and conflicts, while making sure she comes 100% for the community.
“On June 10, which we first celebrated on a large scale in the city this year, I hosted six events from 9:30 am to 9:30 am, with a wardrobe and makeup change in the middle,” Jones said. laughing. “But I appreciate its fast pace and I appreciate how different every day is.”
But the problem according to Jones will be his biggest battle, and what can define his legacy as mayor is gun violence and the city’s record-breaking homicide rate.
And the tools at his disposal to deal with this problem, Jones said, are limited.
“Our gun laws are so lax,” she said. “If you’re over 18, all you need is a valid driver’s license and you can go to any gun show in Saint-Charles and get a gun. Since taking guns away from people is not an option, we need to get to the root cause. “
Public security clash
Great to meet @saintlouismayor Tishaura Jones and members of her management team today. We discussed several issues we can work on together, including workforce development, infrastructure, early childhood and public safety. pic.twitter.com/v6SAqtj1K7
– Governor Mike Parson (@GovParsonMO) April 27, 2021
Prior to delving into city politics, Jones served two terms as a state representative, where she became the first black woman to serve as deputy leader of the minority group.
Some of the relationships she formed during her service at Jefferson City remain.
For example, with Governor of Missouri Mike Parson.
“The governor and I have a decent relationship because we’ve served together,” Jones said, noting that Parson was a state senator when she was in the House. “So that’s pretty much rebuilding that relationship. “
During his first week as mayor, Jones and his team traveled to Jefferson City to meet with the governor and the lieutenant governor. Parson tweeted that it was “great to meet” Jones and his team, citing public safety as one of the topics they discussed.
This relationship was put to the test last month, when Republican lawmakers have called on Parson to call a special session aimed at preventing St. Louis and Kansas City from “defining” their police departments. Some lawmakers in the Saint-Louis region have even gone so far as to launch the idea of pushing the state to regain control of the Saint-Louis police department.
So far, Parson has not followed up on calls to a special session. But Republican lawmakers already adopted law which prevents municipalities from reducing their law enforcement budgets by more than 12% over five years.
Parson signed this bill last week.
“We are really concerned that by taking resources away from our law enforcement officers, especially when they need them most, violent crime will skyrocket,” said Rep. Nick Schroer, R-O ‘ Fallon, at a press conference last month with fellow suburban GOP elected officials.
At the press conference, the Mayor of Wildwood Jim bowlin said he did not support the idea of ”funding the police,” but was in favor of attempting initiatives that would treat mental illness and addiction differently.
Jones recently met Bowlin and gave him more of his public safety plans and the challenges the city faces with crime.
“We need to tackle all the root causes that are why people feel the need to pick up a gun and shoot other people in their neighborhood,” she said. “You can’t cure the symptom, you have to cure the disease.”
Last summer, a 70-member St. Louis commission – which includes leaders from law enforcement and advocacy groups – released an recommendation to establish a “civilian public security intervention network”. This would allow 911 callers to have access to mental health workers, community health workers and social workers to answer calls that are not about the crime.
In a recent interview with The Independent, Bowlin agreed to allocate funds for this purpose.
“It’s unfair for our police to expect them to be a counselor, a social worker and everything,” he said.
But Jones is going to have a hard time convincing Bowlin – and other suburban leaders – that cutting the police budget to do this will reduce crime, he said.
Even though it’s only $ 4 million of the police department’s $ 160 million budget – or about 2% – that money should stay in the department, Bowlin said.
“I don’t think you don’t have to steal one to take care of the other, especially with the federal funds going into municipalities,” he said.
While they don’t fully agree, Jones said these kinds of conversations are important.
“It’s having these in-person conversations that really alleviates a lot of the angst and vitriol that comes and goes,” she said.
Her goal is to continue to “reach the other side of the aisle” like she did as a state legislator, she said. But this is another time, she added, and the divisions run deeper.
She said the hardest part of her job so far has been navigating some of the relationships and “possible minefields” of regional leaders.
“These are not established relationships,” Jones said. “So trying to upgrade, I would say, is the hardest part. “
Relief fund battle
We have reported these issues on several occasions and are disappointed that no action has been taken to address them. https://t.co/X7u2NnFIUH
– Mayor Tishaura O. Jones (@saintlouismayor) July 16, 2021
The potential political landmines Jones navigates aren’t just for suburban Republicans.
His $ 81 million proposal for the federal American Rescue Plan Act relief fund – including donating $ 500 to about 10,000 struggling families – sparked a 10-hour debate at the council of aldermen.
Jones initiated a “participatory budgeting” process that invited the community to help decide how federal relief funds should be spent, sparking thousands of public comments.
Last week, aldermen passed a bill that largely left the mayor’s $ 80 million proposal for federal money intact – with $ 6.75 million for public health and immunization efforts, $ 63 million for direct relief, housing and assistance to public services, and $ 14.5 million for violence response programs. , youth programming and employment development.
But this bill is being delayed indefinitely.
The chairman of the council of aldermen, Lewis Reed, added a provision to allocate $ 53 million to the economic development of North St. Louis. However, the city attorney says he did not specify how it relates to the negative impact of the pandemic, which has led the mayor and the comptroller to argue that they cannot approve the bill in its current form because this could result in sanctions from the federal government.
Now the mayor and the comptroller are waiting to see if Reed will recall the aldermen for a meeting to change the bill. But in a press release on Friday, Reed said, “There is nothing in the bill that is illegal.”
“Mayor now insists on removing wording from bill to prevent funds being set aside for small businesses and economic empowerment in areas north of St. Louis that have been hit hardest by COVID -19, “Reed said.
Jones supports investments for North St. Louis, she said, but the wording of the bill needs to be corrected. On Monday, her spokesperson said she was “exploring all options” to advance emergency relief money for immunization clinics, the homeless and assisted housing.
Darlene Green, Controller of Saint-Louis said in a press release, “This kind of scam is a model,” highlighting when Reed blocked passage of last year’s budget which also included emergency housing assistance.
Green believes Jones is keeping the promises she made to voters during her campaign.
“She makes a good impression,” said Green, “because she’s shown she’s serious about getting the job done and tackling the big issues that plague our community.”