City Council Meeting, December 14, 2021

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Tuesday’s Council Meeting lasted three hours and forty minutes. In addition to agenda items, there was discussion about the officer involved shooting on Sunday, an extended commentary by Mayor Jones concerning organizational charts in city reports that was directed to the Finance Director, and several tense exchanges between Council Members. We have the full-length video, but you can find highlights of the meeting in this summary.

At the beginning of the meeting, Council Member Toni Burrow moved to hold a closed session following the open session for personnel reasons. Council Members Fran Griffin, Naquittia Noah, Ella Jones, and Phedra Nelson voted against the motion, which then failed to pass.

In public comments, Alan Mueller commented on the special meeting held 11/30 to discuss strategic planning. Mueller found the presentation by City Manager Eric Osterberg encouraging. First, the meeting was a next step in the standard operating procedures presented by former Council Member Stephen Garrett last year and felt it was good to hear that Garrett’s proposals were being developed. Mueller was pleased to hear Osterberg was proposing automating data collection and recording tasks to assist project management. Mueller especially liked Osterberg’s emphasis on comparing codes and plans, such as the 2040 plan, Park master plan, and city charter, to find areas of synergy in order to provide creative solutions and cost savings. Mueller also announced that PROUD will be holding an online presentation “What They Really Mean When They Say Critical Race Theory” in January 2022. Information on the presentation will be found on PROUD’s Facebook page.

Erica Brooks brought her complaints about Metro, then said ARPA money should be used for lighting in the Plaza Heights area and that the Property Restoration Program should restore homes there as well. Brooks also complained that the Historical Society still hasn’t responded to her about the history of the parks. Brooks then complained about Nick Kasoff, editor of the Ferguson Observer and newly elected Chair of the Traffic Commission. As Brooks stated, “He gets online, and he undermined me because I’m standing up for the community of African American people that don’t have access to transportation after 8 o’clock.” She also complained about helicopters flying overhead and the response to it on the “Ferguson [Friends and Neighbors Facebook] page.” Brooks asked council to look into the safety of our African American people and to keep bus service for them.

In the City Manager’s report, Eric Osterberg said that the first ARPA meeting would be held 12/15/21 at the Community Center. There would be a presentation and then brainstorming session. Additional sessions will be held and more information is available at Moving Ferguson Forward. (See this link.) The next in-person meeting is January 12, and online meetings on zoom or phone are December 29th and January 5th.

Police Chief Frank McCall reported that the incident on Sunday with an Officer Involved Shooting did not involve Ferguson officers in use of force and was being investigated by St. Louis County. McCall stated it was an ongoing investigation and updates received would be shared with council. He reported that a new dispatcher and officer start soon and that interviews for officers and dispatchers were being held. He also gave a report citing percentages of decrease or increase this year compared to last year.

Council Member Phedra Nelson asked about having police reports emailed to council. Osterberg stated he could send on shift reports to the council. Linda Lipka asked if actual numbers could be shared with council instead of simply reporting percentage of change in meetings. Lipka also asked about when the free trial of the Shot Spotter would end. McCall confirmed the trial expires this year. Lipka asked if McCall could send the council his evaluation of the use of the ShotSpotter and whether it has or has not been useful. She further asked how many hours are placed on traffic control, how many speeding tickets are given out, and when we will start addressing expired paper tags. McCall acknowledged that they have not had the staffing and also spoke on the problem of whether or not to chase after plates or stop sign violators. He stated that calls for service are the priority. He admitted that numbers will really only increase when they do special details.

Fran Griffin asked about the request by the Citizen Review Board (CRB) for footage of Sunday’s officer-involved shooting and in turn Toni Burrow also advocated that the policy be followed so that the CRB would be involved in review. This question about release of bodycam footage is covered in this follow-up story.

Fire Department Chief John Hampton reported that COVID numbers are on the rise and hospitalizations are increasing. He encourages vaccinations and booster shots.

The Human Rights Commission awarded Human Rights Advocate awards to: Emerson YMCA, Laverne Mitchom, James Young, and Cassandra Butler.

The audit report was presented by Allen Schulte of Botz, Deal & Co. and Finance Director Lexi Miller. The city was found to be in accordance with accepted accounting principles. After Schulte finished and left for another meeting Mayor Jones directed a question to Miller about her “pet peeve” that the organizational in different reports were different. “What I’m getting at is that we have too many versions of the organizational chart, we need to get one and stick to it.” After a lengthy exchange between Jones and Miller, Council Member Lipka was able to gain the floor and stated that all of the council had just had a meeting and were well aware of this, that they had spoken with Osterberg and City Attorney Carey Apollo about a new organizational chart that was still being worked on, and that bringing up this matter to the Director of Finance was unfair. As Lipka stated, “We are well aware as a council that we are redesigning this, and we are correcting it and it has not been put out officially with the correction.” Whereas the report Mayor Jones was criticizing was submitted months ago so could not reflect the changes recently made. Further, the audit needs to reflect what the positioning was as of June 30th. Council Member Burrow called for calm and stated that she does not want a working situation where staff should fear making mistakes. Burrow thanked Miller for remaining calm. Jones responded by stating that, “I have a right to ask any question…. I have a right to ask Lexi, that is not throwing Lexi under the bus, that’s not being unfair to her.”

Appointments were made to the Redistricting Commission and Lipka provided an update on the Ferguson Neighborhood Improvement Program (FNIP).

Next Mayor Jones announced that we have a Charter Commission. This purpose of this commission is to review the charter and propose and recommend changes to council. Each council member has the right to select one person to be on the Charter Commission. Members will meet with the City Attorney and select their own chairperson, vice-chairperson, and secretary. The Mayor asked council to start working on selecting members. Lipka asked what caused the need for a Charter Commission and Mayor Jones responded, “I’ve been on council for six years and we have never reviewed a charter so it should be about time to review the charter.”

The council moved on to the liquor license application for the Family Dollar on Halls Ferry to sell beer and wine. The vote was five against and two for; the liquor license was not passed.

Five resolutions appropriating revenue and amending budgets for various city funds were passed.

Two Property Rehabilitation program contracts were passed. The first provides for bids for 333 Roberta Ave. and 434 Jean Ave., the second for 7454 Castro Ave.

In New Business, Council Member Noah asked about the Economic Development Sales Tax Commissions and who the staff liaison assigned was as she had conflicting information. Clerk Octavia Pittman was to confirm. Council Member Nelson asked for clarification about whether the council were to run board and commission meetings. Council Member Lipka clarified that she ran the Traffic Commission meeting as it was a new slate of members, and that staff liaison Don Boyce could not attend, and the commission had already once cancelled a meeting, so she agreed to do it in order that the Traffic Commission could begin. There was also a question concerning public comments at boards and commissions and it was confirmed that all meetings should include time for comments.

Council Member Burrow stated that the Library Board had a person by the name of Green appointed by the Mayor who never showed up and the Board President has asked the Mayor to dismiss her as an appointee. Clerk Octavia Pittman explained that neither the Library Board nor the Council has the authority to remove a member. Pittman was able to contact Green and received a resignation.

In Miscellaneous, Council Member Naquitta Noah thanked Parks and Rec, Police, and Fire departments for their part in holiday events. She then gave a report on her project with the Neighborhood League Academy Program.

Council Member Fran Griffin responded to the public comment by Erica Brooks and gave her own support to public transportation. She also expressed her concern about other municipalities police coming in and engaging with our community. Griffin spoke on how in Sunday’s incident none of the Ferguson officers fired a shot “spoke volumes about the extent of their training.” She followed that “It also spoke volumes on the training that these other officers who we invite into our community have and the differences between the two.”

Council Member Toni Burrows first addressed Griffin’s comments, stressing that she would not say the reason why any officer did not fire a gun was training. She stressed we do not know why, and we will not know until investigation is complete. Burrow also stated that there was a problem in this council, and they had some work to do. She then moved on to talk about the opening of Jade Laundromat, which had included special vendors. She congratulated Noah on completing her class. Burrow also cited Mike Palmer for his boots on the ground volunteer team and his work.

Burrow also stated that she “got an email from a council member asking me to get on board with something that was clearly the City Manager’s position. If you have all these great ideas, we have hired a person. We got him in the seat. Let’s let him do his job… We are a City Manager run city, let the City Manager do his job.”

Council Member Heather Robinett congratulated the Human Rights awardees, as well as city staff, fire and police for all the holiday events. Robinett then spoke on the shooting on Sunday. By the time backup arrived, the suspect had moved a couple houses away from her own home. She heard very clearly the commands of officers for the suspect to put his weapon down, and the gunshots fired by the suspect and those in return. She had crime scene tape between her home and her neighbors while police searched for casings. Robinett was grateful that there was backup that came, and grateful that so many officers arrived.

Council Member Lipka expressed her dissatisfaction at the refusal in holding a closed session as requested by a fellow council member “that Q4 decides no. I just don’t see any working together.” She further went on, “Also, I would also say that new business is a section where you actually present new business. It’s not a section of the agenda where the mayor repeats it loudly to make sure that people who are queued up have got their part ready, and uses it as an opportunity to ask about procedures when they could be asked directly… That’s not new business, that’s gaslighting.”

Council Member Nelson was no longer present in the meeting when called.

Mayor Jones spoke about National Day of Service. Jones also spoke about the Municipal League. She stated that she sits on the Policy Committee and “I attend the meetings, you all claim I attend the meetings for photo ops, [I] attend meetings for knowledge. So don’t say some or several of the council members don’t work together.” Jones continued, “As far as the four you called … the Q4, when Stephen Garrett was on the council and you all voted the way you are wanting to vote, no one said a word. But when someone else does not do things the way you assume they should be doing or they don’t do your way. Then you want to label them whatever. In addition to that, I don’t queue up nobody to say anything. And if I say something three or four times because I choose to say it’s not to queue up anyone.”

Jones then asked for a motion to adjourn. Noah asked, apologetically, to say thank you also to FSBD for the tree lighting. In response, Jones went on, “That’s fine, there are good things that happened in Ferguson other than people complaining about foolishness and try to throw shade.”

Burrow moved to adjourn the meeting and Robinett seconded. The meeting ended at 10:40 pm.