Updated 5:30 p.m., April 19, with Dellwood Mayor Reggie Jones calling for the resignation of the St. Louis County NAACP president — Better Together’s city-county merger proposal received a significant endorsement from the St. Louis County branch of the NAACP.
The announcement came Thursday from St. Louis County Branch NAACP President John Gaskin III, who faced blowback following revelations that he is a paid consultant for Better Together's political advocacy arm.
Gaskin said he believes the proposal will result in significant social change across the metro area.
“The municipality system in St. Louis County was developed to segregate the region,” Gaskin said. “Municipalities use their police, courts and land use authorities to institutionalize wealth and privilege.”
Gaskin said his support of the Better Together proposal is due in part to the proposed changes of the municipal courts system and its consolidation of police departments. The plan would establish one police department across the St. Louis metro area and would establish a consolidated municipal court system.
“The only way we can be better is by doing this together,” Gaskin said. “We strongly endorse Better Together’s proposal because it will benefit our region and create a better future.”
While the county branch has made its endorsement, representatives from the St. Louis NAACP have yet to make a statement on the proposed merger. Gaskin said he spoke with President Adolphus Pruitt earlier this week. Gaskin said he’s hopeful Pruitt will support the merger proposal.
The endorsement drew strong reaction from some on social media:
Gaskin is a consultant for Unite STL. The organization is the political force working to push the city-county merger onto the statewide ballot in November 2020. Gaskin said he will be working on outreach efforts across the state.
Gaskin resigned from his position at the St. Louis Economic Partnership.
“Better Together was a 501(c)(3) that did a tremendous amount of research and developed a plan,” Executive Director Nancy Rice said. “Unite STL is a Missouri Ethics Commission Committee, a political committee that was formed for the express purpose of advocating for that plan.”
Better Together and Unite STL are two separate entities with two different purposes, Rice said. Better Together is designated as the public education arm of the plan, while the latter is dedicated toward advocacy.
Call for resignation
Gaskin’s endorsement of the merger proposal has stirred controversy between other prominent African American political leaders, including Dellwood Mayor Reggie Jones, who has called on Gaskin to resign from his NAACP position.
“Mr. Gaskin's statements today; claiming the St. Louis County Chapter of the NAACP supports the forced merger of the city and county, as well as dissolving municipalities and stealing their revenues to fund the consolidation, clearly indicates that he has sold out the very people he is supposed to be representing and the very people who have supported him with his rise in the NAACP organization,” Jones said in his statement.
Jones criticized Gaskin’s joint role with Unite STL and the NAACP. Jones also said the merger’s proposed 33-member council would silence minority representation across the metro area.
Jones and several other African American political officials scheduled a press conference Friday to discuss Gaskin’s position. That conference was cancelled early Friday afternoon.
Black political representation
Many critics of the Better Together plan have argued the proposal would significantly limit black representation in the metro area. Gaskin said this plan will provide more opportunities for minority groups.
“We have an opportunity now to participate about what’s going to be at that table and not eating the scraps that are left,” Gaskin said. “We’ve had Charlie Dooley, and we’ve had the most historic one of all, Wesley Bell. And so there’s an opportunity for the new leadership team to be quite diverse.”
Dooley is the only African American to have served as St. Louis County Executive. Wesley Bell was elected county prosecutor in 2018.
Under the proposed plan, 33 councilmembers would represent the metro St. Louis area. Rice said in a previous interview that the council would allow for caucuses.
But many are still skeptical of the proposal, including St. Louis Alderman Brandon Bosley, 3rd Ward. He said he believes the plan would reduce black political power further.
"We have not ever had 14 black aldermen in a 28-ward city," Bosley said. "So we still have not gotten to that point where the city has been broken up equally to where we can have equitable representation."
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