Local Government

Consolidating Governments Would Leave Black Ferguson With Even Less Power

The wrong road to empowerment.


The splinters of St. Louis.
Warner Bros.

Even if you define the phrase St. Louis region narrowly, so it covers just the City of St. Louis and the adjacent St. Louis County, the place contains 91 municipalities, many of them microscopic. There is also a patchwork of school districts and other local authorities whose jurisdictions do not precisely match the municipal boundaries. And then there's the area's private "governments," hundreds of urban and suburban street associations owned and run by their residents.

Technocrats are always urging the region to consolidate into a more centralized system, and they've rushed to link their cause to the dysfunctions on display in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. They've offered some odd arguments in the process. The strangest of these appeared in The New York Times, where former Missouri state senator Jeff Smith wrote this:

there's a potential solution that could help Ferguson reinvest in itself and also help African-Americans compete for a bigger share of the pie: consolidation with surrounding municipalities, many of which face similar challenges. The St. Louis region has seen some preliminary support for the idea, with resistance concentrated in smaller political units whose leaders are loath to surrender control.

Consolidation would help strapped North County communities avoid using such a high percentage of their resources for expensive public safety overhead, such as fire trucks. It could also empower the black citizens of Ferguson. Blacks incrementally gained power in St. Louis City in part because its size facilitates broader coalitions and alliances. Another benefit of consolidation is the increased political talent pool. Many leaders just aren't interested in running a tiny municipality.

If Smith is calling for a full-fledged amalgamation of all the region's municipalities, his argument is bizarre. There's no way consolidating the majority-black City of St. Louis into the larger, majority-white St. Louis County is going to give African Americans more political power. Nor would it help to wipe away the county towns where the mayor and other officials are black. (Yes, such places exist.) And given that Ferguson has a black majority, isn't its government an easier foe for organizers to target than the vaster, whiter metro area?

Perhaps Smith just wants to fuse the towns found in Ferguson's corner of the county. But that suggestion seems off-base too. Many of these communities already share the costs of various services without sacrificing their sovereignty. (In practice, governmentally splintered regions like St. Louis feature a web of contracts between different jurisdictions, letting local governments take advantage of economies of scale without giving up control. Many of these towns do not, in fact, own fire trucks.) When the locals do sacrifice their sovereignty, the results haven't always been good for black power. MSNBC reports that one reason whites have been running Ferguson's schools is because "Ferguson shares a board with neighboring Florissant, which is mostly white."

Indeed, in Ferguson blacks would have more power if the town's system of government was less centralized. From that same MSNBC story:

For council elections, the city has three districts, or wards, and each ward elects two members each. That means it's edging toward an "at-large" voting system, in which there are no districts at all, and all candidates face the whole electorate. Numerous jurisdictions around the country have used such systems to reduce minority representation, since it makes it harder for numerical minorities to elect their preferred candidates.

At any rate, the main reason whites run majority-black Ferguson is because the town only recently acquired a black majority; the new arrivals aren't well-organized politically yet, and many of them are not registered to vote. Given what has happened over the last two weeks, that is likely to change in the near future. Indeed, it's already changing now. Whatever other barriers they face, blacks in Ferguson have the advantage of numbers; consolidation won't help with that, and in fact would hurt.

There may well be restrictions on local sovereignty that would be good for St. Louis. (According to Smith, the area's police forces "rely disproportionately on traffic citation revenue," leading to excessive and discriminatory traffic stops. If so, state or county rules restricting towns' powers in this area would be in order.) But broadly speaking, decentralization is not the problem here—and centralization certainly isn't the road to black empowerment.

Bonus links: The great scholarly defenders of "polycentric" local government were Vincent and Elinor Ostrom; for an overview of their work on the subject, go here. For a relevant passage from Jane Jacobs' The Death of Life of Great American Cities, go here. And for a sign that more solutions can be found in grassroots mobilization than urban consolidation, check out this dispatch from the suburbs of Atlanta, where the government is splintered but blacks have made much more political progress.

NEXT: How Police Killings You Don't Hear About Go Down and Why It's Easier to Throw Darren Wilson Under the Bus than Reform Police Rules

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  1. could help Ferguson reinvest in itself and also help African-Americans compete for a bigger share of the pie

    If you’re going to loot, play by the rules.

  2. Blacks are 12 percent of the population and vote nearly entirely for one party. Local control and federalism is the only hope blacks have for having any influence on government. Be nice if someone in the black community would realize that. Do the people of Ferguson honestly think turning their sovereignty over to Jefferson City and thus to the whims of an electorate that is according to the last Census over 80% white going to make things better for them?

    1. Do the people of Ferguson honestly think turning their sovereignty over to Jefferson City and thus to the whims of an electorate that is according to the last Census over 80% white going to make things better for them?

      I seriously doubt that the people of Ferguson think that. Op-ed writers in The New York Times, on the other hand…

      1. I was being sarcastic Jesse. And yes, I have no doubt the Op-Ed writers at the Times think rule by enlightened white people is just the thing the black community needs.

        But remember Jesse, it is not them but people like you and me who are the racists.

    2. If they engage in voter fraud having the larger tax base to leech off of would help them.

  3. Fuck that. Ferguson’s city code includes recall provisions. Use ’em.

    1. And Ferguson is not the ghetto. It is a middle class suburb. I wish the media would make that more clear. This is not fucking Compton in the 1990s.

      1. Once all the businesses are burnt out and looted it will be.

        1. Well there is that.

        2. Can you imagine what has happened to home prices there? How would you like to be one of the poor bastards living there who is trying to sell their house right now?

          1. What,you don’t think white progressives are just clamoring to find a house there so they can better stand beside the blacks? No?

            1. LOL. Though that is a great trolling idea. Just ask the next outraged Prog when they plan to move to Ferguson to stand with their black brothers. What are they chickenhawks?

              And I bet Spike Lee will be moving there real soon.

      2. I think you are looking at data from before the 2 section 8 complexes started being built 10 years ago.

  4. help African-Americans compete for a bigger share of the pie

    If there is an expression that better screams “I am economically illiterate and should not be taken seriously” I don’t know what it is.

    1. “I’m a member of Congress”?

      1. How about “I’m a Nobel-winning writer from the New York Times”.

        1. No he is economically literate but panders to those who are not and should not be taken seriously.

          1. I believe you are giving PK way too much credit. I am convinced he truly believes the vile bullshit that comes from his lips.

      2. “I am Ignoramacus”

    2. help African-Americans compete for a bigger share of the pie

      If there is an expression that better screams “I am economically illiterate and should not be taken seriously” I don’t know what it is.

      Yep. You’ve also got to love this fantasy that more political power and racial solidarity in representation is the cure for the pathologies of the American “black community”. The last time I checked, Detroit was still one of the most sorry shitholes in the country.

  5. Ferguson’s city code includes recall provisions. Use ’em.

    This. One thousand times this. Drag assholes kicking and screaming out of office. Make a public spectacle out of it.

    1. Drag assholes kicking and screaming out of office.

      Only if it is literally.

  6. I read that alt-text as “the ,isplitters of St. Louis…”

    1. So did I.

      I didn’t notice what it actually said until you pointed out that it wasn’t what I thought it said.

  7. in Ferguson blacks would have more power if the town’s system of government was less centralized

    More power yes, but less money.

  8. You can argue with reason all they want, they won’t hear you.

    They are too focused on all that beautiful taxable real property that’s outside the borders of the municipalities they currently control.

    “Regional consolidation” makes it harder for your victims to escape if you manage to impose an expropriatory tax regime on them. Compared to that, nothing else matters.

    All of the practical arguments you offer mean nothing to them. “We’ll just figure out a way to loot the new, larger unit,” is all they’ll think to themselves in response. “It may look hard now, but we’ll figure something out. First the wall, then the looting plan.”

    1. Exactly. It is no different than East Germany building the wall. When forced to compete with freedom, socialism always fails and everyone who can leaves. The progs who run the cities can’t build a wall. So their solution is to just consolidate the local governments so no one can escape.

      That is really all there is to it. They honestly believe that people left the inner cities because they were racist and selfish and not because socialism destroyed the quality of life.

  9. Consolidating Governments Would Leave Black Ferguson With Even Less Power

    So there’s a town called Ferguson and another town called Black Ferguson? Strange, that.

  10. Many of these towns do not, in fact, own fire trucks.

    But I’m sure they own a couple APCs and a SWAT team each… priorities, man…

  11. Another benefit of consolidation is the increased political talent pool. Many leaders just aren’t interested in running a tiny municipality.

    Ugh. Because it’s more important to have a talented “leader” than to have a good representative or administrator.

  12. So quit being Black Fergusonians and Try becoming Americans. I am sure Obama would be glad to give them amnesty… You know, learn English, get their High School diplomas and maybe someday day get jobs. Remember the number one killer of Black Fergusonian Men is not the Police it is other Black Men

    1. And give up their diplomatic immunity?

    2. Actually, the number one killer of Black Fergusonian men is probably heart disease. Then other black men.

      Still, George Zimmerman is the plague that has ruined the black community.

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  14. I grew up in North St Louis County.

    One of the things about North St Louis County is that it’s made up of many municipalities. Most of these municipalities receive upwards of 50% of the revenue from writing traffic tickets and other fine offenses. The situation is such that a police officer is literally fishing for their salary everyday. Would you want to live in a sort of place where the police harass you constantly to extract money to fund their operations? I didn’t think so, I didn’t like it either. It was antagonizing when north county was predominately white during the 70’s & 80’s when I grew up there and I’m quite sure the situation hasn’t changed. That’s why I live in one of the larger more affluent municipalities now with a great tax base.

    I get and agree with the argument against ceding local control, but on a per capita basis the entire St Louis region pays far more for municipal services than it should. According to a recent study on the order of 40-50% more than it should have to pay for those services. As a taxpayer I’m not happy about it, as I’m sure you would not be either. There really needs to be a middle ground here where the economies of scale are brought to municipal services while maintaining some form of local control.

    1. The middle ground is you contract out the police and fire to the a neighboring town’s PD. This happens all the time.

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  16. “Even less power” than what? Blacks are 2/3 of the voters in Ferguson. If such a thing as a “black voting block” exists in that city, it has all the power it could ever want or need.

    Of course, many African Americans likely are pissed off at violent criminals and want police to get tough on crime. They are also likely pissed off at the looters and rioters coming to Ferguson:

    In fact, of the 51 people who were arrested Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, only one person was from Ferguson.

    The source of that isn’t some right wing blog, it’s NPR. http://www.npr.org/2014/08/21/…..n-ferguson

    Statistically, a large number of blacks may blame “whites” in general for keeping them down in some ill-defined way, but I bet the same people make the same choices that white Americans make when it comes to dealing with crime and their own safety is on the line.

    1. Well the 2 section 8 housing complexes have only been there for 10 years, that’s 2 presidential elections. It was a whitopia before

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