The Affordable Housing Trust Fund is supposed to receive $5 million every year from the local use tax revenue, but it has been underfunded since 2011. With the passage of Prop 1, the use tax revenue has increased by about $4 million annually. Affordable housing advocates are calling aldermen to allocate this money into the trust fund – for a total of at least $7 million. Will you advocate for and use your vote to make sure that at least $7 million of the local tax revenue goes to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund?
The city must fully, legally fund the Affordable Housing Trust fund, and my understanding is that $7 million would recoup the city’s underfunding the legal minimum for the past few years. At a time when our city is in deep financial crisis, we need to be mindful of the expenditures we undertake. But affordable housing is an absolutely necessary investment for this city, and I am committed to advocating and voting for affordable housing and the programs the AHTF funds, such as the Center for Women in Transition, and the Northside Youth and Senior Service Center, as a strong foundation for a financial stable and prosperous city.
Have you ever taken an anti-bias, anti-racism training?
I have not had formal anti-bias, anti-racism training, but my understanding of the principles comes through conversations and intentional dialogues with friends and colleagues about how we can confront the manifestations of racism and privilege in our lives and in the systems in which we live. Working to understand where racism and privilege affect our decision making is vital to dismantling and reorganizing the systems that support racism and privilege. We are working to start a Witnessing Whiteness group in my neighborhood and I’m looking forward to participating.
Police Chief John Hayden has said that he is interested in making anti-bias anti-racism training mandatory for officers, but he has not yet researched the cost or process to do this. What can you do as an alderman to help make this happen?
Our city is full of community resources that we can use to work towards a police department that recognizes and addresses its racial biases, while simultaneously educating our citizens. St. Louis’ colleges and universities utilize such trainings and adapting them for our police officers, public safety officials, and citizens is a necessary step forward. I will work to facilitate these relationships and encourage the exchange of resources and trainings in order to move this city forward and strongly advocate SLMPD do what is necessary to implement this training. We need to be working together to build a racially just St. Louis at all levels.
What kind of reforms do you see necessary at the police department?
I am glad that State Auditor Nicole Galloway is pursuing the audit that hardworking citizens and aldermen pushed for and got across the line. Whatever we learn, it is important to have transparency about our financial situation, especially in the largest portion of the budget -- public safety. There should be little doubt that we need reform in our police department. I believe that the Ferguson Commission Report does a tremendous job in detailing necessary police reforms. From a comprehensive plan to respond to civil demonstrations, to engaging officers in the community, to empowering our minority recruitment program. We have to realize the recommendations of the Commission in order to build trust between the people and our police department to move our public safety policies forward.
Would you use your influence and/or vote to shut down the Workhouse?
Yes.The Workhouse as a jail is a blight on our city. We need comprehensive criminal justice reform to either close the Workhouse or use it to offer better paths of rehabilitation. Many of those who await trial in the Workhouse are held on drug-related offenses. Our city, and our state, is facing a crisis when it comes to heroin and opioid abuse. With significant renovations, I would be interested in exploring whether the property could be repurposed to serve as a drug treatment facility, or its resources could be repurposed to help us combat these epidemics. Let’s reallocate funds in the public safety budget to address this crisis as the public health issue that it is.
What would you do to make sure that the city is offering 24-hour homeless services? Do you have ideas of how to ensure that this happens?
We need a walk-in shelter and we need long-term policy to help our unhoused residents with more stable solutions. Housing first policies are important, but there must also be adequate beds available in extreme temperatures for those who are not housed. This winter has shown us that the City is not addressing this crisis to match the need. Groups like St. Louis Winter Outreach who have been working for years in emergency situations to save lives are teaming up with other groups Mama Cat and the Potbangerz who work every day to make sure people are fed, as well as nonprofits and churches who have selflessly opened their doors this winter, and they need to be the ones leading these conversations as we move forward in implementing effective solutions. The Mayor's first meeting with these leaders seemed to open lines of communication and advocacy for needs, and I would encourage those meetings to continue.
Will you uphold the current system in the 8th Ward where renovated homes north of Flora regularly receive 10-year tax abatements and 5-year tax abatements for new homes south of Flora? (Steve Conway mentioned this at neighborhood meeting last year, and it’s documented in the minutes sent out by the association.)
No. Blanket tax abatement approval in the Shaw neighborhood has passed its prime. Tax abatements are useful when there is a need, but without demonstrating a real need, such as significant renovations to help an elderly couple stay in their long-term home, then we cannot keep asking neighbors to bear the burden of tax incentives.
Would you use your influence and/or vote to urge the EPA to fully remove the radioactive waste that was illegally buried in the West Lake Landfill?
Yes. I’m glad to see significant progress on this issue this week, with the EPA implementing a $236 million plan to remove 70% of radioactive waste, but we must continue to push the EPA to make sure that this program begins immediately and is thorough. We need to remove all of the radioactive waste at the site if at all possible to guarantee our safety.
What kind of reforms do you see necessary for tax incentive use in St. Louis city?
$700 million in tax revenue was forgone from 2010-2014 in our use of TIF’s and tax abatements, and though some were needed and have worked well, continuing to give away tax incentives at this level will have dire consequences for our city. We are a city that has many local, community assets, affordable living, and we should not be giving away funding for our public schools and city services while asking long-time residents to pick up the slack with increased sales and property taxes. We need a city plan that has strong guidelines for when tax incentives can be considered, and claw-back provisions when developments do not meet their responsibilities. That plan needs to include a racial equity lens, and a formal assessment of the impact of development on lower-income and more vulnerable residents and should allow for strong Community Benefits Agreements. We cannot give our city away.
Do you support the privatization of the airport?
No. The city should not be selling off its assets.
Do you support a city/county merger or the city’s re-entry into St. Louis County as its 91st municipality?
Not with any plan that has been set forth yet. There is no plan that I have seen that adequately addresses the concerns that St. Louis City residents have, or adequately deals with the challenges that are particular to our city. I recognize that two closely-knit counties competing on a number of shared fronts creates a situation where one raising the salaries of public servants forces the other to do the same, and there is need for coordination on issues that affect us across boundaries but those can be addressed without a full merger. Until there is a plan that justly addresses the concerns of St. Louis City and doesn’t solely benefit interests in the county, there is no path forward here.
Of the current members on the Board of Aldermen, who do you see as a potential mentor or model for you, if you are elected? Why?
I’m looking forward to working with everyone at the Board of Aldermen, and continuing to build strong working relationships there. I admire a lot of the work Aldermen Kennedy has done in his tenure at the Board, and I am fortunate to already have strong relationships with Aldermen Green, Guenther, Ingrassia, Spencer and Tyus. Their hard work and bold leadership are great examples to follow, and I know that the most important thing for me at the Board is to make sure I meet the needs of the people of the 8th Ward and St. Louis as a whole.
President Reed and Alderwoman Green sponsored very different marijuana bills this section. Which would you have supported and why?
BB180 – I believe cities can lead and can be bold, and Alderman Green’s path forward seems the most promising in my view. Even though marijuana possession is only a municipal ticket, those tickets can prevent residents from access to student loans, access to gainful employment, and housing. We have far more significant problems in St. Louis that law enforcement is trying to tackle, and continuing to criminalize marijuana possession is hurting -particularly our communites of color- more than it is having any positive effect.
What was your involvement with the memorial plaque at Shaw and Klemm?
After the death of Vonderrit Myers in Shaw in 2014, I became aware of discussions surrounding a memorial for Vonderrit, a young man who grew up in Shaw and whose family is a part of our community, that were happening between our then Alderman Steve Conway, Emmett Coleman, and Vonderrit's family through the Alderman's comment's.
I became aware of an event scheduled to place the memorial in the ground on Father's Day 2016. I had no involvement in the decision to place the memorial in the ground nor did I assist in that process, however I was present that day to assist in another group's voter registration efforts because I assumed that with a gathering of these folks there may be some who had not registered to vote and have been disenfranchised and I sought to reach out to them on behalf of the Democratic Party. I was unaware of any discussions with the owner of the house at Shaw and Klemm, and had assumed that because Steve had been intimately involved in the creation of the plaque itself that permission had been granted for it to be placed long before it went in the ground. If the new property owner has concerns about this Memorial still being in the tree lawn in front of their property, I intend to seek a mediation process with invested parties to ensure that people's rights are respected.
Why are you running as an independent?
On the night of the Democratic Central Committee nomination vote, I said twice that I did not plan to run as an independent in this race. That was true, and after the committee nominated my opponent, I stepped back and evaluated the choices in front of me. I was asked by dozens of people to run anyway, a billboard was put up asking me to run, and people expressed their outrage that constituents in our ward were not only having to accept what constituted as an appointment, but that my attempts to include them in the process were called disrespectful and meaningless. So I chose to run and turned in over 500 signatures of voters in my ward to the St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners to get on the ballot as an independent candidate, and I remain the Democratic Committeewoman as the voters of the 8th Ward elected me to that position in 2016.
My Democratic values lead me to seeking what is best for the people, even if that means stepping outside of the way things have always been done to make sure that the people's voices are heard. That led me to seek the input of our ward in seeking the nomination, and led me to decide to ensure that they had a choice on election day. Characterizations that I lied, or that I have gone back on my word are misleading at best, and it is particularly frustrating that even the organization in our own ward that - I am still a part of - is continuing to distort the truth with that narrative when I addressed this issue in December. The "Party of the People" - the Democratic Party's future lies in bringing people in, opening our membership to challenge and change, and giving people an active role in the process. I had hoped that another outcome of this election would be self-reflection to whether these nomination and appointment processes are the path our Party wants to continue to take, or whether we can listen to the people we represent who are asking for a better way to participate in electing their representatives. I continue to hope that these discussions and changes will be welcomed.