(KMOV.com) -- With Better Together proposing a merger between St. Louis City and County News 4 wanted to see how it’s working in other cities.
Chris Nagus is traveling to three cities, Indianapolis, Nashville, and Louisville, to see how the process unfolded.
Indianapolis City/County merger did not require state-wide approval like the Better Together plan would. Lawmakers pushed it through.
”We’re going on 50 years of this experiment,” said Deputy Mayor Jeff Bennett. “In many ways put Indianapolis on the map.”
Locals call it Unigov: One mayor, 25 council members. Bennett wasn’t around when Indianapolis merged with surrounding Marion County in 1970, but today as he looks over it, he explains its history.
“The things that made it attractive was the elimination of overlapping duplicative services,” he said. “There was certainly opposition. I think the smaller municipalities outside older city limits saw it as a somewhat of a power grab by city government.”
However, many say Unigov allows the region to speak to outsiders with one voice.
“Having Indy as a unified city/county helps. Think about public safety, public works infrastructure, economic development incentives, all going through a single source,” said Ian Nicolini is vice president of the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce.
The city made headlines when it made Amazon’s top 20 list. St. Louis didn’t make the cut. On the outskirts, a relatively new airport is growing alongside an expanding FedRx cargo hub.
Downtown revitalization is bringing new apartments, stores, and people but officials stress merging won’t create some perfect utopia.
“For us, it was not an overnight fix for anything. It set wheels in motion for the Indianapolis we know and see it today,” Bennett said.
Just like the Better Together plan, school districts there remain unchanged. Fire districts began merging in 2007, that’s ongoing. Indianapolis police now have jurisdiction countywide. There is still a Marion County Sheriff.
Bennett said it’s still evolving 50 years into it.
Louisville residents voted to merge in 2000 and the fight was contentious. The merger went into effect in 2003.
Tom Owen, a historian and professor at the University of Louisville said he opposed the referendum.
"We feared suburbanites were going to roll in and dominate," he said.
Suburban resident Bill Sizemore also voted no, fearing a loss of local identity.
"They put a new library in they called it Library South instead of calling it Okolono like they were supposed to. This is Okolono," Sizemore said.
Sizemore said he still opposes the merger but told News 4 it has been been good for downtown Louisville.
Kent Oyler, the President of Greater Louisville Inc, the local chamber of commerce, says the merger has provided clarity.
"The mayor can go out there and be the Mayor of Louisville. Prior to that, you had a county judge, and an executive who was equally powerful," said Oyler adding that there was lots of division.
Today, Louisville is governed by a mayor and a 26-member council. Police departments merged but fire districts did not. Schools merged in the 1970s so it wasn't a factor during the 2003 merger.
Just like St. Louis, Louisville has many small communities that remained after the merger.
However, whether you live near Churchill Downs or on Sizemore's suburban block, you still get to vote for Louisville's mayor and everyone is part of the population count.
Owen said his opposition to the merger later eased. But others remain opposed saying they get fewer services.
Wednesday, Chris Nagus was in Nashville to show how the “it” city with its abundant music scene and explosive growth, has worked it out.
Each day, Nashville is supposedly bringing in 100 new residents which may be a reflection of its current ranking as 8th in the nation for job growth. Michigan native, Drew Mahan, is one of those new residents.
Mahan is currently archiving the region's history at the Nashville and Davidson County Public Library. During his archiving, one newspaper clipping particularly stood out.
This clipping, dated back to 1963, shows the mayor at the time, Ben West, taking down old city limit signs after voters approved a consolidation plan. As a result of the plan, it essentially ended the city mayor’s career. The consolidation led to county judge, Beverly Briley, as the new mayor.
St. Louis native Rich Riebeling moved to Nashville in the 1970’s to work for the paper as well as several mayors.
He explained that the biggest difference between government in St. Louis and Nashville is the matter of being more organized and cohesive. Riebeling claims this is, “more constructive for development and growth.”
Back when Nashville voters said 'yes,' many things changed. The city’s school districts, as well as their local fire and police departments, combined. However, the city was much smaller in 1963 and opposition was present.
Riebeling said that generally the suburban residents were fighting against the merge in fear of city crime and corruption, yet today, many Nashville residents don’t even remember what it was like before the city consolidated, only what is happening now.
One recent addition to the city is a new Amazon “Center of Excellence.” This new center added last November, brought in 5,000 jobs to the city, further aiding in its rapid growth. Nashville has also recently attracted an MLS team to the city.
The city has also faced new challenges including traffic and infrastructure needs.
In the city’s growing market, it’s difficult to pinpoint one key to success. New leaders are the ones pushing the city forward and quickly pushing through hurdles with unification.
Whether the vote is a yes or no for a St. Louis City-County merger, Nashville leaders are setting an example for cities across the nation.