A string of awkward moments marked the council meeting Tuesday night, including a concern raised that a council vote may be viewed as discriminatory, surprised business owners seeking a liquor license learned they received bad information and that the prospective landlord they had not met was on the council, to “The Longest Silence,” when no one came forward to second a motion to renew the liquor license with Elite Market after negotiating a settlement.
Jackie Lewis-Harris asked what was going on with the senior housing development project because she has not heard anything since it was voted on in March.
Erica Brooks spoke about emissions tests for cars and that some people must go more than once before passing and that the police should recognize that and not outright give tickets. She also talked about the flooding and asked why the creeks don’t have retention walls.
Adrian Shropshire talked about the Samaritan clean-up crews still working and a continuing need for bulk removal as they work on more homes. He also wanted to know where ARPA funds were being spent. He also wants a finance report.
Cassandra Butler wanted to congratulate and thank the mayor for her work and recognition. She was also concerned about the senior housing and wanted to ask the city attorney about it “because it sounds like I’m hearing that there’s one thing after another and it almost sounds like they’re timed in a way to kill a project without killing a project.” She also spoke about conflict of interest and noted that in the City of St. Louis aldermen have resigned and found this was comparable to Ferguson city council.
Nick Kasoff spoke, first responding to Butler’s last assertion, noting that the aldermen there did not resign because of any conflict of interest but rather because the Feds caught them taking bribes. Kasoff then spoke regarding the Traffic Commission and the council’s vote to refuse the appointment of a highly qualified candidate who met the city’s requirements as a resident and having paid taxes. He noted that tonight was a second reading for a bill allowing residents to serve on more than one board or commission. But Kasoff questioned the point of having boards and commissions at all if longtime residents were being rejected for “spurious political reasons.” He asked the council to stop playing political games with the Traffic Commission and Stephen Robin on it. Having vacancies makes it difficult to find meeting times in which a quorum can be attained.
Multiple council members broke in to note that they were hearing from people who were not getting into the zoom meeting tonight. [Note: The Observer’s video starts late because of this problem.]
City Manager’s Report
Eric Osterberg first responded to questions from public comments. He noted that the city met with Samaritan’s Purse earlier to coordinate removal of flood debris from their continued work. Regarding finance reports, he stated that there was an update in June and early July as the city worked through the budget process. Additionally, the new finance director will be giving quarterly reports, with his first one coming this fall. He will give an update on ARPA funds in the next meeting.
A disaster recovery center is still set up at the Urban League on West Florissant. Residents can still use FergusonFloodRecovery.com to find updated information. The question of house buyouts was raised and Osterberg noted that at this point no homes have been condemned.
Fire Chief John Hampton reported on the fire truck damaged in flooding. They are close to finding out whether it is fixable or not and are working with the insurance company. The department also had equipment that was damaged and are working with the finance director, as well as with FEMA and SEMA on that. Hampton noted that truck 3015 went to Madison, Illinois in a fire response there. The Governor of Illinois declared that a disaster and so some costs incurred on use of the truck for that fire will be reimbursed.
Chief Hampton also said that residents will see fire hydrant inspections going on in neighborhoods. He also said that Fire House No. 1 on S. Florissant will be hosting a movie night on September 30th for a viewing of Encanta. There will also be a pumpkin carving event in October.
Mayor Ella Jones stated that there were no appointments tonight, but Councilor Linda Lipka asked to speak. Lipka said she wanted to “leave the door open” to appointment of Stephen Robin to the Traffic Commission. She believes the wrong question was asked in consideration of his appointment. The correct question should be “Is he in the United States legally?” With that proven there should be no barrier to appointment. Lipka wants to go back to his application and review it again so there can be no accusation of discrimination.
A license for Flight 3one4 Café was presented for use at 235 S. Florissant. The owner explained that this will have an aviation theme. Owner Jacinta Callahan serves in the Air Force and plans to have the interior as a replica of the inside of an aircraft and to serve flights of drinks and food based on different parts of the country they have traveled. There would also be Nigerian food nights incorporating her co-owner’s native country.
In council questions it became apparent that the business had not been brought to the consideration of the landlord as the council questions were made. The business owners had spoken to people who told them drywall had been added to the ceiling and that noise complaints dropped off. Councilor Mike Palmer made it clear that they were probably given false information. Palmer asked if they had once had an interest in a bar called Mood and asked what happened to the closure of that business. The owners explained that there had been a disruption caused by people that came in on open mic night. He attended the public hearing concerning the business and all licenses were given back. The business was not forced to close, but he did close the business himself.
Clarification was asked of the City Clerk concerning the liquor license about whether there was no requirement for a lease agreement to obtain the license. Clerk Pittman explained that it was changed last year so that an owner can get the application approved for a liquor license before expending money on a location that is not approved for a license. The lease agreement would be required for an occupancy permit, but not for the liquor license.
Councilor Palmer explained that he was, in fact, the landlord of the space the business was planning to occupy and that he had not spoken with or met the owners requesting the liquor license. He made it clear that the previous tenant had downplayed concerns to the owners proposing this new business. Ms. Callahan apologized for the confusion and said this was new information to them and iterated that they were seeking a calm bar/restaurant environment and noted that the experience they had previously had with the bar was traumatic to them. Palmer assured them it was nothing against them, but they had not been given truthful information. Ultimately, it was moved to table discussion until the next meeting to allow a meeting between the business owner and the landlord.
Next, Eric Osterberg explained that a settlement agreement had been submitted concerning Elite Market’s liquor license. This has already been covered in detail here in “The Longest Silence.”
A resolution to allow city staff to be signatories for debt service with Regions Equipment Finance Corporation was passed.
A resolution for J & M Displays to be selected as the contractor for the July 4th celebration was passed.
A resolution for Grant Contracting to be selected as contractor for phase I of the Veteran’s Memorial Renovation was passed.
A resolution for the City Manager to enter into a contract with ESO Fire and EMS Reporting Software was passed.
Bills Requiring a Second Reading
Both bills on the agenda were tabled and postponed until the next meeting after extended discussion on the first bill and on what meeting of the council is needed for boards and commissions before the second reading of that bill. This was followed by discussion about what dates were available for a special meeting.