This week’s council meeting had an agenda that looked dull yet ended up being a series of arguments. Short memories, short fuses, and personal ambitions led the way for clashes. The title on book on the shelf behind City Manager Eric Osterberg read Process and Reality, but the meeting showed a lack of process and a very ugly reality.
In the first round, during the city manager’s report, council members showed a forgetfulness that Osterberg had reported on Sept. 14th to council that the city would be looking for OSHA’s rule before deciding how to comply with President Biden’s mandate that employers of one hundred or more implement vaccine requirements or proof of negative testing. Osterberg stated at that meeting that he would be looking for the rule and guidelines to be posted and decide for the city based upon that. (Council Members who still need to jog their memories can find a recording of this at this link.) What passed then without comment became a heated dispute once Osterberg stated last night that he had issued vaccine requirements and allowable exemptions (medical or religious) to getting the vaccine for city staff. Osterberg also noted that some of the city’s health and life insurance policies reflect costs in relation to employees not getting vaccinated.
Council Member Heather Robinett noted this is not much different than insurance looking at those who smoke, it costs a lot to hospitalize someone with COVID. Council Members Fran Griffin and Linda Lipka said they opposed a mandate, Council Member Toni Burrow said she thought this should be a working session. Discussion then turned to whether the City Manager had the authority to do this. City Attorney Apollo Carey stated that Council had the ability to call a session to discuss vaccination. Carey further stated that an argument could be made that the City Manager has oversight of personnel, but that the Council has the right to regulate healthy of the community. Osterberg reminded the Council that he has been talking about this in weekly reports a number of times without feedback from the council, so he proceeded forward.
Osterberg also stated it was sent to the Personnel Board, at which point Council Member Phedra Nelson said she did not receive that. Mayor Ella Jones then stated that she did not believe email was used for the Personnel Board. Lipka responded that policy could be emailed, as it was not personal information. Osterman offered to provide a presentation on the matter in a work session and the meeting proceeded.
In a brief and civil exchange during approval of minutes, Lipka noted that the June 22, 2021, were incorrect as stating that Burrow moved to accept appointees to the Economic Development Sales Tax Commission. Lipka noted that neither Burrow nor herself had voted for the appointees, and Burrow obviously did not make the motion to accept them. Minutes for that meeting were not approved pending review and correction.
Mayor Jones stated that there was a “recommendation from staff” to appoint Ella Jones, Don Boyce, Public Works Director, and Eric Osterberg, City Manager, to the Ferguson Future Foundation. Council Member Lipka responded that she had sent an email to the council saying that the appointments were meant to be a temporary “band-aid” because the Future Foundation was a 501c3 it had to have officers in place before it could accept donations. As there is a current donation for the Veterans Memorial, appointments were needed. The council and staff board members were meant to be placeholders for residents to be appointed. Lipka stated that the Foundation was designed to have residents on the board, not council and staff. However, the bylaws state that appointees, other than the City Manager, Finance Director, and Parks Director, serve two-year terms and that the council could not vote to change the terms. Lipka then moved to postpone appointments to the next meeting to allow time to solicit citizen applications for appointment to the Foundation. Toni Burrow agreed that it could be done to get members from each of the wards. At that point Council Member Naquittia Noah abruptly moved to accept the staff recommendation of Jones, Boyce, and Osterberg. Lipka then moved to amend her previous motion considering the inability of appointing temporary positions to a motion to postpone until the next meeting to present citizens for appointment. Toni Burrow seconded Lipka’s motion to postpone appointments. Voting was 3-4, with Burrow, Lipka, and Robinett voting to postpone appointments. Lipka stated her dismay that appointing council and staff only to the Board will give the donations given to it the appearance of a slush fund. Mayor Jones inserted point of order cutting off further comments. A following vote to accept the recommendations of appointing Jones, Boyce and Osterberg passed. This fills the board with no need to solicit citizens to join.
Mayor Jones announced a commission for redistricting for three people to be appointed by the mayor and work with the city attorney and city clerk for redistricting because of the 2022 Census. Jones began announcing appointments until Lipka asked why the council members were not told about the creation of a redistricting committee, and why council members were not given the opportunity to offer potential candidates for consideration to the commission or for citizens to know they might apply. After a heated exchange, Jones agreed to postpone until the November to move forward with appointing a Redistricting Commission. There was no discussion about why Jones felt the commission was needed or further discussion of its aims other than stating it was because of the 2020 Census. Expect more from the Observer on this topic soon.