City Council: Misplaced Priorities and Failures to Follow Through

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Sunshine Watch: After a special meeting on April 17, 2021, the Council openly discussed and acknowledged that the Mayor’s Task Force was in violation of Missouri Sunshine Law. Despite the requests of Council Members as of 4/26/21 the provision of agenda, minutes, and recordings of meetings held in violation of the Sunshine Law have still not been made publicly available.

Last week’s regularly Council Meeting had several examples of misplaced priorities in the council’s discussions. The problems are compounded in layers, from the ineffective meeting organization of the council and on to implementing the council’s decisions. Let’s take a closer look at what happened and why with an extended summary of the agenda item of the meeting.

Problems were apparent from the start, with motions for amending the agenda taking a full 45 minutes to complete before public comments could be made. Among these amendments was the motion by Toni Burrow (Ward 2) to place Commissions and Boards at the top of the agenda. Burrow noted that she had someone waiting for appointment to the Library Board. Mayor Ella Jones responded that she had not talked to anyone “due to the election [two weeks ago] and other things going on,” and so had no appointments to make. After motion and second Fran Griffin (Ward 3) questioned the need to add this to the agenda, requiring Burrow to explain that she wanted discussion, followed by comments from Byron Fry (Ward 3) until Burrow pointedly and pleadingly stated that this was a motion to amend the agenda for discussion, not that there should be discussion now. Finally, it was acknowledged that the motion had been made and previously seconded by Stephen Garrett (Ward 1). On vote, it first passed with a 5-2 vote until Griffin disputed the vote and asserted, she voted nay, and the vote was amended as passing with a 4-3 vote.

When discussion opened for Boards and Commissions, Toni Burrow started with the question of when citizens can be appointed after they put applications in, and why are they wait weeks and even months to know if the city wishes to appoint them. But now she is most concerned with the Library Board because they cannot move on with plans for educational program for kids without a full board, and this failure to fill the vacancy on the mayor-appointed board is creating delays for grants and fundraising for summer programs. Burrows made it clear that she needs the board fully in place and she is losing volunteers because of not being able to fill the appointment.

Ella reiterated the vacancies can be filled on the 27th because there are other applications that have since come in and now she needs to talk with those new applicants. Linda Lipka (Ward 1) then asked what about fairness to the person who applied long ago. There have been three council meetings where Mayor Jones said by the next meeting, she would get it done and talk to the applicant, now instead of one applicant, the Mayor wants to speak with several before she is willing to act.

Looking at just this one agenda item we can see a massive problem of time suck. It starts in the meetings with the repeated need to go over Robert’s Rules, and these out-of-place discussions make the meetings long, tedious, and ineffective. This has been a regular obstruction to executing and implementing the duties of the council to fill boards and create policy. But the consequences are so much more than just a long, contentious council meeting—as Burrows clearly noted this refusal to allow an appointment was threatening the ability to get children’s educational programming started and funded. Yet Mayor Jones’ response was to wait, again, because she had not spoken to the original candidate waiting for weeks and now she wants to speak to the new candidates as well.

Despite the Mayor’s insistence that the Library Board appointment be made April 27, Mayor Jones has left the item of citizen appointments off of the agenda she submitted for public posting.

Mayor Jones is the first mayor in memory to use an office at City Hall regularly, yet she cannot find the time to make an occasional phone call to speak to applicants for the city’s Boards and Commissions. What does she make time for instead? Apparently for the vaunted Mayor’s Task Force, the special committee that was “named” a Task Force to (tenuously) claim legitimacy as solely Mayor-appointed under the City Charter. And what has the Task Force accomplished? To date, the sole achievement of the Mayor’s Task Force is to illegally operate outside the requirements of Missouri Sunshine Law so that only the Task Force knows whether they hold meetings or simply social events.

The next Ferguson City Council meeting is Tuesday. You can join live or find the recording here at the Ferguson Observer along with a recap and transcript.

To join live on April 27, 2021 at 7:00 pm:

Phone in: 1 312 626 6799

Zoom: https://zoom.us/j/91649314160?pwd=eGp6VTdWODMvT1FDUEdXZlJzYTVIdz09

Meeting ID: 916 4931 4160

Passcode: 192101

Any public comments must be submitted by email to FergusonQuestions@fergusoncity.com by 5:00p.m. on Monday, April 26, 2021. Your name will be called in the order of which emails were received prior to the deadline.