Chancellor Wrighton named campaign chairman of Better Together

| Senior News Editor

Chancellor Wrighton will be the campaign chairman of an effort to merge St. Louis County and the City of St. Louis into one metro city as proposed by Better Together, a nonprofit organization.

To execute the merger, the non-profit needs to collect enough petition signatures to put an initiative on the statewide ballot in 2020. Because the separation of St. Louis County and the City of St. Louis is written into the state of Missouri’s Constitution, an amendment is needed to undo the relationship between the two. Wrighton, who will retire as chancellor of Washington University on June 1, will help lead this campaign.

Chancellor Mark Wrighton discusses university policy with Student Life reporters in September 2017. Wrighton, who has served as Washington University’s chancellor for 24 years, will step down from his role in June, and has agreed to become chairman of the Better Together campaign.Jiyoon Kang | Student Life

Chancellor Mark Wrighton discusses university policy with Student Life reporters in September 2017. Wrighton, who has served as Washington University’s chancellor for 24 years, will step down from his role in June, and has agreed to become chairman of the Better Together campaign.

Functionally, the new government would consist of a mayor, prosecuting attorney, assessor and a 33-member council. There would also be one unified court system and one police force.

“It is a statewide vote; so, by definition it is political, and there are many political leaders who are speaking out about this. But this is an important issue that will be of great importance for a long time to come for our region,” Wrighton said.

The report released by the non-profit referenced the “Great Divorce,” when St. Louis County split from the city in 1876.

“Fragmentation of governance over the last 150 years has had a myriad of detrimental effects on the St. Louis region’s economy, public health and safety, and sense of community,” the report read. Wrighton identified challenges like crime, health disparities and extreme poverty in certain parts of the St. Louis region as issues the new government could address.

“Right now, a lot of the resources in the region are fragmented. With one mayor and 33 counselors, they will be able to prioritize the challenges and prioritize the dedication of resources to meet the challenges we face,” Wrighton said. “Right now, you have the St. Louis County, the City of St. Louis and there are 88 municipalities who have certain responsibilities, powers—and it is a system that is inefficient in terms of government. And there is the feeling that we’re paying far too much for the government that we have and that we need to prioritize the deployment of resources to address the problems.”

Better Together is primarily backed by St. Louis financial executive and billionaire Rex Sinquefield. The campaign is estimated to cost $25 million.

“Today is indeed a historic day for St. Louis…I say ‘yes’ to one unified St. Louis,” St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger said at the announcement Monday.

In his role, Wrighton will work part-time with the leaders of Better Together to assist in the educational aspect of the campaign. He will not be paid for this position and will be working full time at the University following his retirement as chancellor.

“[The leaders at Better Together] will be encouraging me to work with other leaders in the community and to assist in what I think is an important educational program to help people understand why this is important, what it will mean and the prospects for a brighter St. Louis region,” Wrighton said.

If it passes, St. Louis will become the ninth-largest city in the United States. Wrighton said that the optics of St. Louis would also immediately improve, citing violent crime statistics.

“Of course that statistic doesn’t change anything about the number of violent crimes in our region, but the optics are obviously much better, and that will encourage people to think more favorably about coming to St. Louis, not only individuals, but businesses,” Wrighton said.

Wrighton says that he believes Better Together’s plan is the best way to address the challenges the St. Louis region faces.

“I feel that this plan of bringing everyone together with this new government is the best possibility for meeting the challenge of the region and also developing positive momentum,” Wrighton said.

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