City Council Meeting Summary, Jan. 11, 2022

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Last night’s council meeting, held on Zoom, was the best attended meeting in recent memory. At its highest, 54 people were logged, and over 40 were still on as the meeting ended. The strong interest was clearly caused by the fatal car crash on Chambers on Monday evening, in which two people in the speeding car were killed. The meeting began with Council Member Linda Lipka asking if she could interrupt for a moment. Once given the floor, Lipka moved to allow for people to sign up for public comments via chat rather than limit comments to those received by email by Monday, 5:00 pm. The move was seconded by Heather Robinett and passed unanimously.

The first two comments were those which had been submitted in advance. Alan Mueller invited all to attend PROUD’s presentation on “Critical Race Theory: What It Really Is and What It Really Isn’t,” to be held online on Wednesday, January 26, 2022, at 6:00 pm. Erica Brooks then spoke, stating that she had attended the ARPA meetings and wanted money spent to benefit bus riders on Suburban and Dade by providing safer surroundings. She requested bus platforms and shelters. Next, she wants derelict homes in Plaza Heights addressed, and for sidewalks to repaired on Dade. She also wants upgraded lighting to LED lights. As for the car accident, she favors a roundabout be placed at Chambers and Elizabeth.

Nick Kasoff then spoke, inviting all interested persons to attend Traffic Commission meetings where they are looking to gather data, or trying to gather data. Kasoff stated that obstacles to getting necessary data included lack of special equipment that he is trying to work with County to get access to use here. Kasoff reported that County has stated there is not room for a roundabout at Chambers and Elizabeth, and that the County’s position is that we have to do enforcement. “What that means is that Ferguson is going to have to step up their game. We’re going to have to have police officers out on that street pulling people over and writing tickets.” At this point, County’s studies claim there is no problem on Elizabeth and that West Florissant is really the only problem. Kasoff stressed that it is up to us to counter that and demand changes, and the basis for that demand requires that we come up and show the data of our own—this will require radar, writing tickets, and doing enforcement.

Stephen Robin spoke next, providing his personal perspective as a resident adjacent to Chambers. He has lived here for 6-7 years and in that time, there have been over 28 accidents along the stretch of road by his home. Since the beginning of the pandemic, he has especially noted an increase of speeding along Hereford/Chambers and Elizabeth. Robin personally spoke with a county engineer that day who acknowledged it might be possible to have an offset roundabout if some of the land in front of the Christian Church were used.

Mildred Clines stated that she was right at the incident last night where the crash occurred. She suggested they could possibly time the lights differently in a way to slow people down. She states a lot of accidents happen when people are trying to make a left-hand turn. Perhaps left turns should only be made on a special signal. There is a left-hand signal on Elizabeth when you go north, but the sign for left turn only is dark there, a light could be added.

Aja Owens spoke stating that she was here tonight representing Congresswoman Cori Bush and anyone needing anything could reach out. She left contact information in the chat box. [Note: the chat box was set so that any submissions were only viewable to Clerk Octavia Pittman, the contact information was not shared publicly in the meeting.]

Gerry Noll spoke next, stating that after the last council meeting of December 16, 2021, he had sent an email to his council members and included the mayor and city attorney. In that meeting, Mayor Ella Jones stated that a Charter Commission was to be formed and each council member would appoint one person. However, when a Charter Commission is used, state law requires that voters select members, not council members. Noll’s asked council and the city attorney to weigh in on his understanding of the state law and what the proper method is for forming a charter commission and choosing members. [A fact check on the Observer agrees with Noll’s interpretation of state law. You can see this article for that information.]

Last, Wendy Daniels spoke, saying that as a lifelong resident there has been a significant escalation of speeding and recklessness in the recent several years. Speaking personally, Daniels said she is a grandmother now, and her family also lives in Ferguson. Her daughter and son-in-law fear to take their baby out for a stroller down the street because people are overtaking on Elizabeth and speeding. She stated that despite what County thinks it’s a problem on Elizabeth, as well as on Suburban, Georgia—any street with a long stretch. She wonders about using speed bumps.

With public comment closed, Eric Osterberg gave the City Manager’s report. Three meetings for ARPA input have been held, and each was attended by about 8-10 people each. The last meeting is Wednesday Jan. 12th. More information can be found at MovingFergusonForward.Com . There will also be short surveys going out to citizens about the funding. [Sign up to get the surveys here: https://www.flashvote.com/ferguson .]

Osterberg also gave an update on Proposition U, also known as the “Wayfair Sales Tax,” which Osterberg explained as coming from a 2018 Supreme Court decision in South Dakota vs. Wayfair, in which the court determined that online retailers are to remit sales taxes to state and local governments because of the impact they have to local infrastructure (transportation, roads, streets, bridges). That sales tax is currently collected by the state and not remitted to the city. Instead, the Missouri State Legislature determined that cities can only collect these sales taxes by passing a ballot initiative. Some local municipalities are already placing this on the April ballot. Osterberg’s recommendation to the city council is to begin a public educational campaign about the proposition. Ferguson is part of a sales tax pool with County, as well as having our own point of sales tax. According to the Municipal League, if the County’s successfully passes Prop U, Ferguson’s revenues could grow by 1 to 1.5 million from the sales tax pool. But for the city’s point of use tax, we could likely see between half to one million dollars if a ballot initiative is pursued. Two special sessions would be required to be held before the proposition for the city’s point of use tax could be placed on a ballot. Osterberg is recommended a public reading of an ordinance at the end of April with possible placement on the August general election ballot.

Chief John Hampton gave his report and cited the surging numbers of Covid infections. He continues to urge social distancing, wash your hands, and if using reusable masks, be sure you are washing those too. He encourages betting vaccinations and booster shots for all of those eligible. North County continues to have low vaccination rates. Those needing a test can register at Revivestl.com and there is also a combination test site and vaccination site at Dellwood Rec Center which takes walk-ins. Chief Hampton noted that current figures do not include home tests, but what he does have is that in zip code 63135 there are approximately 800 new cases, and in 63136 about 1450-1500 new cases, all within the last two weeks and reported to County Health.

Chief Frank McCall gave his community policing report by first stressing how trying 2021 was for the department. He gave a report overview of 2021 statistics. Most notably, we had a big increase of homicides with 12, well above 2020’s 5 homicides. Burglaries were reported to be down from 215 in 2020 to 151 in 2021. Assaults and domestic violence have shown little change from the previous year, with 118 assaults and 196 domestic violence incidents within the past year. For traffic enforcement, in 2020 we had 709 traffic stops, in 2021 we had only 538 traffic stops for the entire year, an average of 45 stops a month or about 10 stops a week. In 2020 we had 13 failures to yield incidents in which drivers refused to stop and in 2021 we had 31 incidents, a dramatic increase.

McCall also reported that several people are in the process of potentially being hired as officer, both post-certified as well as candidates for police academy. McCall also noted that at a past department they had a partnership with neighboring communities cross deputizing officers on a joint traffic detail so they could cross boundaries for the purpose of writing citations. Since officers were deputized, they could testify in court. McCall stated he was looking at different options.

On being asked by Council Member Lipka, McCall said he was look for grants to fund the ShotSpotter. While the trial period has run out, they have agreed to continue it while FPD looks for funding and will review that service in March. He clarified that in the 10 pm to 2 am period from 1/31/19 to 1/1/20 there were 59 shots called in to the PD (no ShotSpotter in place at that time), and the same time band overnight on 1/31/20-1/1/21 there were 52 rounds identified by the ShotSpotter. He was not asked, nor provided the results of the recent New Year’s Eve of 1/31/21 overnight into 1/1/22. McCall did note that the ShotSpotter does not cover the whole city.

Lipka then asked if there were any arrests for shots fired over New Year’s and Chief McCall responded, “Not that I recall. And I can research that, but I don’t recall any arrests.”

Two proclamations were read, one making January 23-29, 2022 “School Choice Week,” the second congratulating Carletus D. Lathan for his selection as Chair of the Greater North County Chamber of Commerce.

And two resolutions were passed. The first authorizing the City Manager to contract with New Concept Construction for the repair of retaining walls at 820 Hutton Place and January Ave. This includes work to be done to a residence in which the damage to the retaining wall was caused by the city.  The second authorized for New Concept Construction for road repair on North Clay Ave. The road infrastructure there is so damaged it has caused damage to cars. This is the section of N. Clay between Robert and Thoroughman.

In New Business, Linda Lipka moved to change to allow public comment to be allowed by those who sign in on chat requesting to make a comment, instead of requiring submissions the day prior to meetings. There was discussion, including concern that a change needed to be publicly announced. It was determined the change could be discussed in a working session and the motion was withdrawn until later.

Fran Griffin stated that since federal funds are not expected to be released until March and we have people eligible for them, but not able to access them now, that there should be a stay of evictions until those funds can be released. There was some discussion on this, including how “other entities” would be affected and this was also determined to have a work session on this issue.

Linda Lipka also said the council needed to determine how persons may be added to the Ferguson Wall of Fame.

In Miscellaneous, Council Member Naquittia Noah spoke of volunteers providing toys to children at Oakmont and of the work of the Southeast Ferguson Community Association in giving out gift boxes, as well as residents who actively pick up litter. Council Member Fran Griffin said she was looking forward to PROUD’s program on Critical Race Theory. She also spoke about being at the ARPA input sessions and hearing ideas and discussions.

Council Member Toni Burrow thanked all at the frontlines fighting Covid. She also stated that there are still some questions that have not been answered by the Chief of Police that are necessary with the Citizen Review Board (CRB) concerning this fatal shooting incident that she would like an answer to the council as soon as possible. She also stated that the CRB will be sending a letter to Judge Perry for the upcoming consent hearing to show accomplishments and to show some areas where better collaboration with the Police Department is needed. Council Member Heather Robinett said that she wanted to thank everyone for the comments regarding the crash last night, she acknowledged that the number one thing people bring up is traffic enforcement. She looks forward to getting more public input and comments. She also urged residents to look out for their neighbors in these cold weather days.

Council Member Lipka also spoke of her experience with the ARPA input meetings. As council liaison with Traffic Commission, she reiterated that she wants to see the digital board used and create awareness, possibly create Speed Check Zones. She hopes for action and spoke of seeing the Ring video of the fatal accident. She spoke of needing to continue to work together, come up with ideas, get them together and take them to the Police Station, to Public Works, and the City Manager. Council Member Phedra Nelson spoke of how speeding occurs regularly all over Ferguson. She also spoke on activities of the Emerson YMCA, where she works.

Ella Jones congratulated Deborah Carter for her appointment to Red Circle, Andreal Hoosman for being names a Drum Major for Christian Hospital, and thanked Christopher of Starbucks, who prepared coffee and items for the Police Department on Christmas Eve. She also participated in MoDot’s Slow Down campaign, which provided the “Slow Down” signs being distributed to the neighborhood association leaders.