“Aldermanic courtesy” is a practice adopted by some local government boards or councils that gives wide latitude to local officials for what is allowed or approved within their ward or district. There are many “quality-of-life” issues where preferences vary within a larger city, so some level of deference to local preferences is inevitable and fine. Issues such as liquor licenses, bar operating hours, minor traffic rules (e.g., stop signs or one-way streets), minor zoning choices, and much more are often left to the discretion of the local elected member of whatever board or council applies. In the City of St. Louis, tax subsidies for local developments often fall under this umbrella of aldermanic courtesy.
While I recognize the appropriate use of aldermanic courtesy in some instances, I am the last person to defend its widespread practice. Laws should be applied evenly to the greatest extent possible, and too often aldermanic courtesy just enhances the whims and personal power of the practitioners. Whether your new restaurant is allowed to serve liquor should not depend on whether the alderman likes you or not.
Recent unfortunate events in the City of St. Louis have brought the practice justifiably into question, but like a desperate gambler whose every bet is wrong, the board of alderman can’t even get ethical reform right. The board just decided to bypass the usual practice of aldermanic courtesy in the 17th Ward FOR ALL THE WRONG REASONS. The local alderwoman had been more hesitant to support tax subsidies in her ward, and she deserves praise for that (and some related criticism). So the developers who want their giveaways just found another member of the board to introduce their subsidy bill, and it is expected to pass.
The most absurd statement in the story is this one:
In any case, [Alderman Marlene] Davis said aldermen should be willing to listen to the “experts at SLDC,” who professionally vet development projects.
The idea that “experts” at the St. Louis Development Corporation actually “vet” these development subsidy requests is beyond absurd. The ease and frequency in which developers receive these subsidies, combined with the continued decline of much of the City of St. Louis, are Exhibits A through Z for why all these types of subsidies don’t work.
These tax subsidies are there for the taking. A few aldermen, such as Ms. Pihl, occasionally try to push back somewhat. So what happens then? You just find another member of the board to go around the member who won’t rubber stamp your handout. If this is how we are going to reform aldermanic courtesy in the City of St. Louis, then bring back the crooked assessor.