Francis Slay is running for re-election to a third term as Mayor of St. Louis City, and one one of his campaign brochures landed in my mailbox. I was intrigued by this bit highlighted in red, below:
He created a problem Property Task Force... really? I was unaware of such a thing, and I keep up on such topics. Then I wondered how Blairmont consistently escaped having to fix their derelict properties. Maybe paul McKee got dispensation due to bulk quantity?
Research into this Problem Property Task Force was needed, and since he touted it in the campaign brochure, Slay's website would be the first stop, logically. But there's one very large thing missing from his re-election website: he shares NO information about his issues, beliefs and accomplishments!
Sharing a candidate's issues, beliefs and accomplishments is standard procedure. This is how informed voters decide who to choose. Irene Smith is running against Slay in the primary, and her website lists her issues and beliefs because that's what's expected of someone running for public office.
Francis Slay's complete absence of solid information about his record, issues and beliefs is very odd. Does he assume we already know what we need to know about him? Or does he not have any issues or accomplishments he can substantiate?
The average voter will not do this (and is this what they are counting on?), but I went digging for solid information on this Task Force, and here's what I learned:
● Less than a year after taking office in April 2001, mayor Slay was featured in the January 2002 newsletter of the Holly Hills neighborhood Association. They asked if anything can be done about landlords who let their property run down, to which Slay answered: "People in the suburbs do not tolerate landlords who allow their properties to deteriorate nor people who disrupt our neighborhoods. City residents shouldn't either. I am utilizing the problem properties team to work with neighborhoods to crack down on landlords who let their properties run down."
● In Chapter 9, page 235 of the 5-Year Consolidated Plan Strategy they report: In July 2002, three police officers were assigned to the City Counselor's Office to investigate various aspects of nuisance properties and to clear up numerous outstanding Housing Court bench warrants for landlords and tenants. A telephone hotline was established to allow citizens to anonymously report problem properties.
● Mayor Slay namechecks the program in two subsequent State of the City Addresses.
The April 2005 speech: "We have - together - made City neighborhoods that are safer and cleaner; and a City government that is fairer and leaner. The budget document that you will soon consider upholds these values. It includes my strong recommendation to keep 40 additional police officers, staff the Most Violent Offenders program, and strengthen our Problem Properties Task Force."
The April 2006 speech: "I also propose that you fund an expansion of the Problem Properties and Nuisance Crimes Task Force to more effectively prosecute these new cases and fight problem properties."
This implies that no one acted on his 2005 recommendation and he's still pushing for funds and resources for the program. Seems it took about 5 months for Slay to finally announce: "To make our neighborhoods safer, we are hiring 40 new police officers. Half of them will join our Most Violent Offenders task force. The other half will focus on problem properties, nuisance crimes, and other bad behavior that disrupts our neighborhoods."
● Digging deeper, it turns out that in 1996 the Neighborhood Stabilization Office - an agency long in place - was adding a "Community Development Specialist to administer the City's Problem properties ordinance." So, Slay's program was actually the beefing up of an ordinance that already existed at least 5 years before he took office.
● It takes a bit searching, but reporting problem properties is a service offered on the City of St. Louis website. The Neighborhood Stabilization office and the Citizens Service Bureau are the two excellent agencies that have always been in place to handle these issues. We would have to ask them exactly what new benefits the Task Force provided for their daily duties.
On this web page, they fully define what constitutes a problem property, and sure enough, Blairmont has been violating for a good 5 years. How do they get away with it? Oh wait, there was one punishment in that arena last year.
Surely they included that prosecution in the number cited by Mayoral Chief of Staff Jeff Rainford in a December 2008 speech: "The mayor created a Problem Property Task Force to do something about run down property and nuisance crimes that drive people crazy. We are closing in on 10,000 violations that we have forced landlords to address."
OK, if that's strictly true then Slay should be very proud. So proud that they detail this Task Force and its accomplishments on the re-election website. That's what all other campaigning politicians do.
Instead, one curious voter spent an hour learning that city agencies have been working on this issue long before Slay ever took office, but by giving it a new name and a few more cops, Slay can use it as a piece of campaign feel-good fluff devoid of follow-up details.
This isolated bullet point could be an explanation as to why there is no substance on his campaign website: you start digging and there's no there there. It leaves me with the impression that he's simply running on a manufactured image and is so sure of the win that his campaign can't be bothered to supply any meaningful facts and figures.
Are St. Louis City voters OK with this?
Now, if I just had the spare time to get to the bottom of what Slay really believes about St. Louis Public Schools...