Big-city Mo. mayors gather to form legislative agenda

Tuesday, September 16, 2008 | 4:58 p.m. CDT; updated 1:06 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, September 17, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY - The mayors of Missouri's largest cities are coming together in an attempt to gain clout at the state Capitol.

The mayors of St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield, Columbia, St. Joseph, Joplin and Jefferson City met behind closed doors Tuesday in the capital city. Also at the meeting was the St. Louis County executive.

Their mission: to develop a unified agenda to press in the Missouri legislature.

The local leaders outlined three general priorities Tuesday: protecting municipal control against state efforts to intercede; seeking more money for city transit; and focusing on work force development, which could include early childhood education, prisoner-release programs and economic development issues.

The cities each already have their own Capitol lobbyists, and they already team up with numerous smaller cities through the Missouri Municipal League, which also has its own Capitol lobbyists. But the cities' interests don't always coincide.

Kansas City Mayor Mark Funkhouser initiated the mayoral meeting.

As a relatively new mayor elected last year, Funkhouser said: "It seemed to me, looking at it from the outside, that there was way too much competition between St. Louis and Kansas City."

Added Funkhouser: "Today was a real solid start" toward building a unified city position on issues.

Their new coalition has no name, and the mayors stressed that it isn't intended to imply any particular dissatisfaction with lawmakers or the Municipal League.

But St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said that the departure of many longtime lawmakers has zapped some of the Capitol's institutional knowledge about the needs of bigger cities. Under voter-approved term limits, lawmakers can serve about eight years each in the House and Senate.

"With term limits, you have individuals who come and go rather quickly," Slay said. "So we need to do a better job of communicating our messages and issues and challenges and concerns to them."

The mayors plan to develop more specific legislative goals before the next session starts in January.

Gary Markenson, executive director of the Missouri Municipal League, said he knew little about Tuesday's mayoral meeting but added that his association would gladly work with the new coalition.


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