Rachel Lippmann | KBIA

Rachel Lippmann

Reporter

Lippmann returned to her native St. Louis after spending two years covering state government in Lansing, Michigan. She earned her undergraduate degree from Northwestern University and followed (though not directly) in Maria Altman's footsteps in Springfield, also earning her graduate degree in public affairs reporting. She's also done reporting stints in Detroit, Michigan and Austin, Texas. Rachel likes to fill her free time with good books, good friends, good food, and good baseball.

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The city of St. Louis has received an extra $5 million to cover the costs of the coronavirus outbreak.

The commission that helps oversee parking operations in the city voted Friday to transfer the money from one of its accounts to the city’s reserves. That’s about the amount the city has spent this budget year on the virus; next year’s budget is likely to be millions of dollars in the red.

A group that wants to radically change the way candidates are elected to some offices in St. Louis has collected enough signatures to put the measure on the ballot.

City law currently calls for partisan primaries in March for mayor, comptroller, the Board of Aldermen and its president. Because the city is so heavily Democratic, the April general election usually does not matter. That means candidates can effectively win citywide office with much less than 50% of the primary vote.

If approved, Proposition D would make all those posts nonpartisan. Voters would be able to select as many candidates as they want in March, and the top two would go to a runoff in April.

The FBI says it has received hundreds of complaints about cyberscams based on the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“When there’s a lot of fear and anxiety in the general population, it just seems that a lot of times scammers and criminals take advantage of those emotions and try to rob people of their money or their personal information,” said Mark Dargis, assistant special agent in charge of national security and cyber programs at the St. Louis field office.

St. Louis has made it a little easier for residents of one ward to buy land for urban agriculture.

The Land Reutilization Authority, which manages the vacant lots and buildings owned by the city, endorsed the pilot program last week. It allows residents of the 26th Ward, which is north of Forest Park, to buy vacant land for raising crops or animals at two-thirds or less of market value.

St. Louis Alderwoman Heather Navarro is the latest guest on Politically Speaking, with the 28th Ward alderwoman talking with St. Louis Public Radio’s Rachel Lippmann and Jason Rosenbaum on how the city of St. Louis is handling the coronavirus.

Navarro represents portions of the Central West End, Skinker-Debaliviere, Hi-Pointe and Wydown-Skinker neighborhoods. She was first elected to the Board of Aldermen in a 2017 special election to succeed Lyda Krewson, who represented the ward before she was elected mayor.

Updated 6:20 p.m. March 20 with comments from business leaders and details about what activities and businesses are excluded from the order

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has issued sweeping new orders that restrict movement and close vast numbers of businesses statewide, the latest steps he has taken to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The order goes into effect at 5 p.m. Saturday. It closes all nonessential businesses, including hair salons, retail shops and recreational businesses like bowling alleys. The order does not apply to grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations or other businesses that provide essential services. Transit and roads will not close down, and restaurants will still be able to provide takeout food if they wish.

Updated at 8:55 a.m., March 20, with comments from the Ethical Society of Police

St. Louis County has its first female chief of police.

The Board of Police Commissioners announced Thursday it selected Mary Barton, who currently commands the West County Precinct, to lead the department starting May 1.

“The Board listened to the community, worked fast and hard to complete the selection process. The Department needs consistent and steady leadership as it deals with COVID-19 and the other challenges facing all police departments in this nation,” Ray Price, the chairman of the board, said in a statement.

The state of Missouri has its first confirmed death from COVID-19, the virus caused by the new coronavirus.

Gov. Mike Parson confirmed the death Wednesday at a brief press conference at the Capitol. The patient is from Boone County, and the infection was related to travel, but no other information was provided.

Another piece of the financing puzzle for the Major League Soccer stadium in downtown St. Louis is in place.

The Missouri Development Finance Board voted Tuesday to approve $5.7 million in state tax credits. The board late last year denied a larger request that amounted to $30 million.

Dan Guenther, the first-term alderman for St. Louis’ 9th Ward, is the latest guest on the Politically Speaking podcast.

Before being elected in 2017 to represent the ward, which covers part of seven south St. Louis neighborhoods including Soulard, Benton Park and Kosciusko, Guenther worked for Operation Brightside and with former Mayor Francis Slay’s Office of Sustainability.

He says his three years on the Board of Aldermen have been “quite an adventure.” 

Election officials throughout the St. Louis region say they are prepared to keep voters healthy during Tuesday’s presidential primary election.

Missouri confirmed its first case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, over the weekend. The young woman and her family live in St. Louis County. She had traveled abroad in Italy.

The site of what’s believed to be the nation’s only memorial garden honoring transgender individuals will soon belong to a local advocacy group.

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen could vote Friday to sell the land that holds the Transgender Memorial Garden to the Metro Trans Umbrella Group. A committee of the board approved the sale, for $1,250, last week.

Updated at 1 p.m. with comments from the sentencing.

An insurance executive who donated thousands of dollars to then-St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger in exchange for county contracts was sentenced to 17 months in prison for his role in the pay-to-play scheme.

The sentence handed down Thursday to John Rallo, the president of Cardinal Insurance and Cardinal Creative Consulting, is slightly below federal guidelines of 21 to 27 months for the crime. U.S. District Judge Richard Webber also ordered Rallo to pay $130,000 in restitution to the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership and spend two years on supervised probation when he is released.

Updated March 11 with not guilty plea 

A former St. Louis alderman has pleaded not guilty to charges that he spent campaign donations on personal expenses.

An attorney for Larry Arnowitz entered the plea on his behalf Wednesday afternoon. Though Arnowitz was present, he did not speak except to tell U.S. Magistrate Judge Shirley Mensah that he understood the proceedings.

St. Louis County Councilman Tim Fitch is the latest guest on Politically Speaking. The St. Louis County Republican joined St. Louis Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum and Rachel Lippmann to talk about some of the biggest issues circulating throughout county government.

Fitch, a former St. Louis County police chief, was first elected to the county council in 2018, succeeding longtime Councilwoman Colleen Wasinger. He represents the council’s 3rd District, which includes Town and Country, Huntleigh, Kirkwood, Des Peres, Fenton and Sunset Hills.

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen approved financing for the Major League Soccer stadium redevelopment plan on Friday. 

The plan received overwhelming support, passing with a 22-1 vote. The bills were sponsored by 17 aldermen.

Supporters of the MLS team say the $500 million development will bring in millions to the city.

Five years ago this month, the nonprofit legal advocacy group ArchCity Defenders and its allies opened a new line of attack on what they viewed as the injustice of the municipal court system in St. Louis County.

They filed the first of what would become seven federal lawsuits accusing St. Louis area municipalities of running modern-day debtors prisons. The lawsuits sought major changes to the way the cities used their municipal court systems and financial compensation for those harmed. 

One city — Jennings — decided to wipe the slate clean and start fresh. But it was the outlier.

The decision by the St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners to keep the search for a new police chief within the department received support Wednesday night from residents of South County.

The board announced last week that officers at the rank of captain or higher — 23 in all — will be eligible for promotion to replace Chief Jon Belmar. He announced earlier this month that he will retire April 30 after more than six years as chief and 34 with the department.

A sharply divided St. Louis County Council on Tuesday made it illegal for people with domestic violence convictions or active orders of protection to carry a concealed weapon in the county.

The four Democrats on the council, all women, voted for the measure, while the three Republicans, all men, voted no. County Executive Sam Page is expected to sign it into law.

After spending nearly 15 years in courtrooms as the lead public defender in St. Louis, Mary Fox has a new job.

Last month, she became head of Missouri’s public defender system, overseeing and advocating for nearly 400 lawyers who represent indigent individuals at their trials and during the appeals process.

St. Louis aldermen on Friday took action on major pieces of legislation they say will both improve the city.

By wide margins, board members gave first-round approval to legislation financing a Major League Soccer stadium near Union Station. And they sent a pay bill to Mayor Lyda Krewson that includes the first major raise for city workers in years.

City support for the Major League Soccer stadium in downtown St. Louis took a small step forward Friday, with the introduction of bills outlining the financing and development plans.

“Major League Soccer could be huge for the city of St. Louis,” said Lewis Reed, president of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen and the lead sponsor of the two bills. “We know just by the initial matches at Busch Stadium that there’s a huge appetite for Major League Soccer.”

Researchers at Washington University have found that paramedics and emergency medical technicians are seven times as likely as the general public to have thought about suicide in the past year.

Five emergency medicine doctors surveyed more than 900 paramedics in Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky and Iowa over three months in 2017. The results were published in an industry journal this month.

A St. Louis County member of the Board of Freeholders has resigned as he considers another run for county executive. 

Mark Mantovani sent a letter to County Executive Sam Page on Thursday, saying he believed he could be more useful to the community in other ways. 

St. Louis County has made it easier for its information technology department to purchase open-source software.

The County Council approved a change to the purchasing law in November. County IT officials say they hope to make the first purchase under the new law within the month, and believe it could save the county thousands of dollars in the long term.

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen has voted to ensure that workers on big construction projects are paid the prevailing wage for skilled tradespeople in the area.

Aldermen sent prevailing wage legislation to Mayor Lyda Krewson on Friday without opposition. She is expected to sign the measure.

The chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court says the state needs to properly fund its public defender system to continue the criminal justice reforms it has passed in the past several years.

Speaking to a joint session of the state Legislature on Wednesday for his first State of the Judiciary address, Chief Justice George Draper applauded the General Assembly for boosting access to treatment courts and allowing more individuals to enter diversion programs. However, he cautioned those reforms can only go so far.

Four activist groups say they have found a way to close the St. Louis jail known as the Workhouse by the end of this year.

The Close the Workhouse campaign unveiled its plan on Tuesday. The groups behind it say their research shows all of the people accused of state crimes could be held safely at the downtown Criminal Justice Center.

St. Louis' first black prosecutor, Kim Gardner, has sued the city, its police union and five others for what she calls a racist effort to block her reform agenda.

Updated at 5:30 p.m., Jan. 14 with comment from the advocacy group covering the cost of litigation —

St. Louis’ first black prosecutor, Kim Gardner, has sued the city, its police union and five other defendants for what she calls a racist effort to block her reform agenda.

“Gardner was elected in 2016 on a promise to redress the scourge of historical inequality and rebuild trust in the criminal justice system among communities of color,” reads the lawsuit filed Monday in federal court. “Unfortunately, entrenched interests in St. Louis … have mobilized to thwart these efforts through a broad campaign of collusive conduct” to protect the status quo and remove Gardner from office.

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