This comes from the St. Louis Dispatch.
A law opposed by many proves difficult to overturn
By Tony Messenger
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
In Franklin County, it takes one man to make a village.
Developer Bradley Ferguson is seeking a vote that would allow him to build a 102-lot subdivision on about 40 acres he owns just outside the Washington city limit.
Only one person would be eligible to vote in the election: Ferguson.
That's why county officials are playing a tense waiting game. Franklin County commissioners hope the Legislature will repeal the obscure law passed last year that allows landowners to bypass county zoning by creating their own villages.
That law has county commissioners across the state furious. They gathered in Jefferson City last week to urge lawmakers to do something about the law.
"They knew they made a mistake," says Franklin County Commissioner Ann Schroeder of legislators. "They were asked to address it last summer and they didn't. Why they're delaying change is beyond me."
The reason boils down to this: Speaker of the House Rod Jetton has stood in the way of the change because he's waiting for an apology from a fellow Republican lawmaker.
Here's what happened:
The so-called "village law" was inserted into a House substitute bill with no debate during last year's session. It allows a landowner who has been denied a rezoning or annexation attempt to create his or her own village, as long as there is a vote within the boundaries of the proposed village. It allows the vote to proceed even if there is only one person voting.
The first developer to use the bill, Robert Plaster of Lebanon, Mo., is a frequent donor and ally of Jetton's. Plaster filed legal paperwork to create a village on 400 acres adjacent to Table Rock Lake the day the new law went into effect.
Rep. Dennis Wood, from Kimberling City, represents the area. He expressed anger at the village provision in the law and pinned much of the blame on Jetton.
Wood told his constituents and reporters that Jetton was responsible for slipping the new provision in without any debate in committee or on the House floor.
"This little change was put in there without debate," Wood said last year. "I and others, even the people in the Senate, didn't catch it."
That made the House speaker mad.
The way Jetton sees it, Wood and others had plenty of time to see the change and do something about it. And Jetton denied putting the provision into the law himself, as Wood has alleged. The speaker said he doesn't know who inserted the village provision into the bill; the head of the House committee that passed the bill said she doesn't remember.
When the bill to repeal the law, SB765, was filed earlier this year, it sailed through a committee and the full Senate without a dissenting vote.
But in the House, Jetton sat on it, waiting for Wood's apology.
"I did stall a couple of weeks," Jetton says. "Why in the world would I feel like I need to bend over backwards and do the guy a favor?"
On April 10, Jetton sent the bill to a committee headed by Rep. Vickie Schneider, R-O'Fallon, who said she's not sure if there's enough time left in the session to act on it.
If the bill continues to stall, however, Jetton might have to answer to the Senate. State Sen. John Griesheimer, R-Washington, said he might pull some legislative tricks of his own by using the Senate committee he heads to put a hold on any House bills until Jetton agrees to let SB765 make its way through the House.
Griesheimer referred to such a move as the "nuclear option" and said, "I don't want to do that." But he said he's considering it.
Meanwhile, county commissioners across the state await action on a bill they say is absolutely necessary.
Several attempts to use the village law have been filed in Camden County near the Lake of the Ozarks, including one by a man who wants to be able to use livestock to control the weeds on his property.
Two of the petitions have already been approved by county commissioners and became official villages with a vote earlier this month. Both villages are in residential subdivisions. Camden County Presiding Commissioner Carolyn Lorraine said commissioners had their hands tied.
"That's what's so frustrating," Lorraine said. "Sometimes these legislators make these laws and they have no idea what it does to the counties."
In Franklin County, a village of one is on the agenda. With no legislative action, Schroeder says commissioners will have to approve it.
"We need that law repealed," she says. "Otherwise we'll have no choice but to put (the village) on the ballot."