Council Meeting Summary 2-8-22: Anything Goes

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This Tuesday’s council meeting was nearly four hours long and followed a closed session that started an hour prior to the public meeting. This was a dense meeting with a lot that may be better unpacked in several editorials. Highlights included: a special presentation by a developer with a proposal for senior housing and a big fat financial request of Ferguson; the appointment of two new members to the Traffic Commission—despite the council openly knowing that at least one was ineligible to serve according to the city’s Charter due to non-payment of back taxes; and a sudden, defensive response from Council Member Phedra Nelson claiming disrespect at the very end of the meeting, coming after she passed on providing comments in her turn when called on.

Note that as the council is a formal meeting following Robert’s Rules and a set agenda, topics tend to be included in more than one part of the meeting. For instance, a public comment may be made in reference to an item on the agenda that occurs late in the meeting. As such, the summary can seem disjointed. The following is more detailed than many other summaries written for the Observer, as there seemed to be several things in the meeting of potential importance to residents. This summary follows the chronological order of the meeting itself.

Public Comments

Amy Randazzo, Children’s Librarian at Ferguson Municipal Library spoke about the upcoming Electronics Recycling Event this Saturday, February 12th, 9 am to noon at Forestwood Park. See library website at this link: bit.ly/fmplrecycling for information on what can be recycled and what items may have a fee.

Ray Jackson, submitted his name to make a comment but did not join to speak.

Annette Jenkins declared she was going to “educate you on the black history” and proceeded into a tirade against Linda Lipka and her motion in the last meeting to correct the city ordinance concerning election ethics so that it was not in conflict with the ordinance for the state. Jenkins believes it is racist to wish to change the existing city ordinance.

Erica Brooks commented on how the city should use its ARPA funds, especially in the Plaza Heights neighborhood, and demanded that the effect of Metro’s Via service instead of bus service in the evening be studied by the city. Brooks also wanted to discuss redistricting and referred to a meeting in Jefferson City.

Alan Mueller spoke on his review of the relevant state statutes and city ordinances brought up in the last meeting concerning the city ethics ordinance which is in conflict with state law. He expressed concern about how the city believed the ordinance overrides state law and asked the City Attorney or Council to provide the applicable provisions for this. Mueller believes that the city, at a minimum, must meet state law. However, he recommends consideration of tighter oversight. The city ordinance could require additional information such as property owned, a declaration of family transactions and information of those related to the candidate (parents, siblings, in-laws, etc.) “Having an appropriate ordinance on conflict of interest is a major component of building trust,” said Mueller. He also made a request for council to allow a special presentation by NPSC (Neighborhood Policing Steering Committee) before any council discussion on this matter.

Mildred Clines spoke, stating that she is also a member of the NPSC. She echoed Mueller’s request that the council allow NPSC to make a special presentation before Council discuss the city’s election ethics ordinance. Clines explained that the group has been working on review of city code, including review of an ordinance that contains conflict of interest. “In order to build trust between the residents and its elected officials, we need to have what we call true transparency, specifically, financial reporting,” Clines said.

Nick Kasoff spoke next. He first provided some context, stating that he owns several rental properties in the city. He explained after the 2014 protests he had trouble renting them out and got behind financially and it took a few years to get caught up. Before that time, he had been suggested for a city board or commission, but he had to decline because the city ordinance requires that you meet certain qualifications to be seated on a board or commission, including that all personal and real property taxes are current and fully paid. There is also a document that you have to file with the Missouri Ethics Commission to submit a conflict of interest disclosure in every election. When candidates hand in their petitions, they sign a paper stating that if they don’t do this they are removed from the ballot. Now all of that has changed and is not being required or enforced. “Now we have some members of the community suggesting that the request of a candidate that everybody else in this election followed the same laws that have governed every election in Ferguson for years, is somehow racist. This is where we are. And this is how you end up with a government that is full of corruption, that is full of people who follow the rules when they want and ignore them when they’re inconvenient.”

Kasoff continued, “At least if the Missouri Ethics Commission had the authority to enforce the state law, something would have been enforced here. But instead, we have another situation in Ferguson where people are just getting by and doing whatever they want to do. Drive 70 miles per hour down Florissant Rd. Don’t file your financial disclosures. Leave garbage in your yard. Don’t renew your license plate. Is this the kind of community that we want to live in folks? Are we really making Ferguson a better place to live by making it a place where every man is a rule unto himself? Think about it.”

Laurie Jackson, of Ward 1, thanked Mayor Ella Jones and Council Member Phedra Nelson for coming through her subdivision, Ferguson Woods, and for having arranged with Home Depot, bringing residents a tote filled with safety items and cleaning supplies. These totes were given to all 178 homes in the Ferguson Woods subdivision. As Jackson explained, many who received these totes called or texted Jackson saying thank you, and wanted to “make sure that they, you know, word got to Mayor Ella and Councilwoman Nelson that everyone was appreciative and very encouraged.”

City Manager’s Report

In the City Manager’s Report, Eric Osterberg called first on Fire Chief John Hampton for his report. Hampton said that currently anyone 5 years and older is eligible for vaccination and anyone 12 or older is eligible for booster shots. Anyone seeking a vaccination can go to revivestl.com to find a location and make an appointment. Hampton noted that many testing sites were closed during the recent winter storm, which may contribute to lower reported numbers of positive tests. However, we were on a downward trend prior to the storm.

Hampton noted that the Fire Department continues to test city employees that are not vaccinated or feel ill at any time. Within the last 14 days, we have had 94 new cases in the 63135 zip code and 168 cases in 63136. These numbers do not include those who only home test, but they can be used to identify trends.

This Saturday, February 12th, there will be a drive through testing spot at Ferguson Firehouse No. 1 on S. Florissant, from 9:00 am to 3 pm. Additional testing spots may be held soon elsewhere within Ferguson, details are still being worked out.

Police Chief Frank McCall gave his report next. Chief McCall gave his usual this year vs. last year crime statistics comparison and said he was optimistic about our numbers. He stated that traffic enforcement was up from six stops in January 2021 to 120 in January 2022. Failure to yield incidents are also up. Ferguson had 92 shots fired associated with shots identified by ShotSpotter this January and 41 shots in the areas outside of those monitored by the ShotSpotter system. One new officer started. [Chief McCall did not give the current total of officers currently employed or working, nor was he asked.]

Special Presentations

The first Special Presentation came from the Human Rights Commission (HRC). Rather than be presented by a member of the commission, Council Member and commission liaison Naquittia Noah presented. Noah spoke on how Black History Month was created in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson. She went on to explain that HRC’s purpose is to prevent or eliminate discriminatory practices. Their focus areas are on housing, employment, and public accommodations. Ferguson’s human rights law ordinance can be found in Chapter 21 of the city’s municipal code.

The second Special Presentation was made by Lewis McKinney of LMAC Holdings, LLC, an affordable housing developer. [Although not made clear until nearly the end of council questions, this presentation concerns a proposal submitted for this RFP found on the city website at this link. The site in consideration is a post-third property acquired from St. Louis County after years of non-payment of taxes. The site has never been developed. It is an odd-shaped tract which fronts the west side of New Halls Ferry near where it meets Old Halls Ferry and wraps around behind the Meineke and A-1 Liquor businesses. Apparently, the city has not begun any contract negotiations with LMAC, though McKinney is clearly seeking to move quickly and stated he is looking for a loan or grant from the city in the $300,000-600,000 range for the project. The RFP requires acquisition and development cost information that was not included in the presentation or addressed during the presentation.]

LMAC has previously completed “Star Residences I and II”, one located in St. Louis city and one in Jennings. They have also developed single family homes for affordable housing, one home shown as an example sold for $135,000. The Senior Housing, they have built comprises two-bedroom units, is ADA accessible, comes complete with appliances and community amenities (computers, community room, fitness room, library, and community area). They have projects in progress in St. Louis City and for single detached homes in Jennings.

For Ferguson, McKinney proposes 2-bedroom units, 852 sq ft, with appliances. His anticipated funding sources are Missouri Housing Development Commission (MHDC) tax credits which he anticipates being awarded, St. Louis County Home Investment Partnership Program (HOME) Funds, the City of Ferguson, and private equity funding. McKinney introduced Alice Logan of A Caring Plus, which offers support services on site for their properties. They provide a resource coordinator to plan social activities, health education, social interaction, such as arranging outings and on-site activities, and provide resources for problems such as overdue utility payments, finding transportation, working with Goodwill for finding employment for seniors wanting to work and providing vaccine clinics on-site.

Once opened to council questions, Fran Griffin asked if they could do 1 ½ bath units, but McKinney said that increases costs significantly.

Linda Lipka then asked about funding breakdown. McKinney stated that MHDC has been generous in the past and that he will seek maximum tax credits possible. He said that County HOME has supported projects with about $300,000 – $600,000 and “I will be asking of Ferguson to consider something along those same lines.” McKinney expects to finance the development 15-30 years. He anticipates units will rent about $500 a month. When Lipka continued questioning, he stated he would be looking for a “$300,000 -$600,000 loan or grant from city.” He would need about a $150,000 loan from Ferguson for MHDC scoring purposes.

Lipka asked about what they had available when a tenant reaches needed for assistance. McKinney clarified this development is solely for independent living. McKinney stated that its up to the resident and their family to determine when they can no longer take care of themselves.

Naquittia Noah asked about whether they have moderate income single home properties. Then about whether the common area had a refrigerator and if there were restrooms in the common areas. She asked about taking out trash, McKinney said trash would be collected from residents and taken out.

Toni Burrow asked what McKinney’s total indebtedness is right now. McKinney said he is financially secure.

Phedra Nelson asked about the location. McKinney said its accessible to hospitals, Hall Ferry. Nelson then went on about how happy she was with his facilities and how impressed she was with them and the services.

Lipka asked about maintenance staff, McKinney said maintenance is part of A Plus Services, an independent company from LMAC.

Consent agenda

Approval of minutes

Appointments

Mayor Jones noted that in the last meeting a motion on the floor to give Council Members Griffin and Noah time to seek out residents in Ward 3 to for the Traffic Commission. Lipka asked to clarify that statement, and stated it was requested by Griffin and Noah to find people from Ward 3 to fill the last two positions. Lipka stated that after the last meeting, Louis Arman reached out to Griffin, Noah, and herself to clarify that he lives in Ward 3 and has lived there for the past 25 years. He has other family members in Ward 3. He is rehabbing a home in Ward 1, but has not yet moved and will not have the home ready anytime in the near future. His children attend school in Ward 3 and that will not change when they do move. He very much wants to be considered for Traffic Commission as a Ward 3 resident.

Additionally, Lipka stated that she received an application from Sara Fletcher on Jan. 29, and Patricia Cook on Jan. 30th. Lipka reminded Griffin and Noah that they were contacted by email concerning their applications at that time. Lipka noted that there were two other submissions, from Donald Cash and Charles Watson, but she did not know when they came in. Lipka sought to have the first application in considered first for an appointment for representing Ward 3.

Griffin responded, regarding Arman, “because he’s already told us he is moving into another ward, we don’t anyone else who lives in one ward to represent another ward. And although I do understand the importance of serving and actually completely appreciate the ability, I would actually recommend him going to the HRC because there are two open positions.” Griffin further explained “That request was actually given to us to be able to allow us time for residents in our community who actually live in the ward, have no intentions on moving out of our ward.” Griffin stated she does not want Arman on Traffic Commission.

Naquittia Noah then made a motion for Donald Cash and Charles Watson to be appointed to Traffic Commission. Lipka noted that they were still in discussion and there were hands up for council members waiting to speak. Mayor Jones insisted that the motion proceed and asked for a second, Griffin seconded. The mayor then said it was open for discussion again. Lipka asked when Cash and Watson submitted applications. Clerk Octavia Pittman was not sure but said she would try and look it up. Lipka went on to explain that Ward 3 residents reached out to her and argued they should be considered for the commission, especially if they submitted applications ahead of others.

Burrow then spoke about her concern of establishing a bad precedent, “We don’t make them [standard operating procedures] on the run. We don’t do policy like this…. Here we are grabbing at straws.” Burrow requested the city attorney weigh in on the manner and procedure of filling the commission. Griffin called point of order, claiming that Burrow was out of order. Mayor Jones confirmed they were in discussion and called for City Attorney Apollo Carey to respond. He said that without a policy requiring all wards to be represented, then it’s just a matter of council setting the policy.

Council Member Phedra Nelson asked to clarify whether or not all wards were to be represented in boards and commissions. Attorney Carey noted there was no requirement for each ward to be represented on this commission. Burrow made the comment that whether or not a person was maybe moving in the future was not council business and should not be a consideration. “The question is,” said Burrow, “He’s in whatever ward he is in right now, today, where he’s going to sleep tonight. That’s what should be taken into consideration.”

Lipka spoke again, explaining that “first come, first served,” may have been interpreted differently from her intention. She explained that she wanted these residents who apply to be acknowledge and considered in the order in which they came in. Lipka asked Clerk Pittman if she had found when the Watson and Cash applications had been received.

Griffin said that representation matters to her, and she appreciates applicants that come forward. Griffin again stated that she wanted to see Cash appointed to the commission.

Clerk Pittman confirmed that Louis Arman and Patrick Concannon both applied January 24, Sara Fletcher was January 30, Donald Cash was Feb. 2, and Charles Watson was Feb. 4th.

Naquittia Noah said she appreciates applicants, but she won’t ignore the applicant she found to apply.

Heather Robinett asked whether these applicants know they needed to pay taxes? As she noted a cursory search found that there were applicants who are overdue and owe taxes. “Are we allowing this moving forward or should there be a vetting process so that anybody owing back taxes is not put through to submission unless they are taken care of?” Robinett asked the rest of the council. Further, Robinett expressed her concern for the manner of these appointments as a precedent and expectation for the future, “because this could become a political popularity contest.” Burrow echoed Robinett’s comments, “This is the wrong time, I think, under the information that we now have, to further this.” She said vetting needed to be done before names came forward publicly.

Mayor Jones noted that “It has been the practice of the past that your taxes must be paid” but went on to say that at this point she simply wanted the seven members of council to come to an agreement and suggested a special meeting. Lipka objected to having a special meeting. Jones responded that “If we don’t come together then it will always be like this.” Lipka reiterated that the applications from 3rd ward residents came to her of their initiative, and these were applicants that these were personally motivated to apply without being approached by council. She wanted to look at the applicants in the order in which they were received.

Mayor Jones called for a voice vote to appoint Cash and Watson and received a mixed. Mayor Jones said again that if they don’t get to together the council will “self-destruct,” and then called for a roll call vote. Noah, Griffin, Jones, and Nelson voted aye. Burrow, Robinett, and Lipka voted nay. In Burrow’s turn to vote she requested to have an explanation added to her vote and stated that she “Wanted council and resident to know that voting yes for this motion is going against the charter and its requirement for paying taxes.” The motion passed 4-3, with Donald Cash and Charles Watson appointed to Traffic Commission despite the ineligibility of at least one of the two candidates.

Resolutions

A resolution for Pool Management that a contract be made with Midwest Pool Management was read. Park Director Dave Musgrave explained that as hiring is difficult, it will be next to impossible for the city to staff the pool. He stated that the goal was to bring it back in house within two years, but he has brought it forth to council for the pool to be managed by Midwest pool for another year. There will be a full-time city employee dedicated to the pool and spending at least half of their day there and he was aware of problems that had occurred previously and hoped this oversight would prevent repeating those problems. Musgrave also said he wants to see swim lessons, public programs and events at the pool again. There are repairs to be done when the weather is warmer in preparation for opening. The resolution was passed.

Bills Requiring First Reading

A bill authorizing the deed for transfer of real properties to the city from the County including: 1279 Chateau Woods Dr., 1244 Chateau Woods Dr., 433 S. Dade Ave., and 301 N. Marguerite Ave. was read. Development Coordinator Bailey Mitchell noted that 1244 Chateau Woods cannot be released from the County now and will have to be removed from the list. Linda Lipka asked the question if how the Property Restoration Program (PRP) will address properties in neighborhoods with Homeowner’s Associations. At this time, the city doesn’t have a record of which properties are part of HOAs and have indentures but will need to be updated in PRP materials in the future. Additional discussion about the PRP was also held. Council approved an amendment to remove 1244 Chateau Woods from the bill.

An ordinance amending Chapter 47 of the Code of Ordinances and by a new article as it relates to Mobile Food Vendors was read and discussed. Fran Griffin objected to the inclusion of a requirement for vendors to include the city as an additional insured party on their policies. Griffin moved to remove the requirement for including the city as an insured party and Nelson seconded. Toni Burrow brought up the point that removing this would make the city liable for lawsuits. Heather Robinett also voiced concern about removing this without understand the legal complications. Griffin stated her belief that it hindered the business to have to include every municipality. Bailey Mitchell verified that other municipalities have some similar form including this. Robinett suggested that the city look around at nearby municipalities to determine best practices and ensure that we get clarification before passing the ordinance. Griffin’s motion failed in a 4-3 vote.

Unfinished Business

Lipka requested getting discussion of the city ordinance for election ethics on the calendar for discussion. The NPSC had also requested to make a presentation before any discussion was to be held. Council agreed to have NPSC present at the next meeting and to discuss the issue at the meeting.

Miscellaneous

Lipka stated that “We’ve done so much talking tonight” that she would decline give any more comments tonight. Nelson said, “I don’t have anything Mayor,” and also declined when called. Burrow wanted the council to know she and Ella planned to meet about SOPs. Burrow also lamented how council often works on things without sharing what each other is doing with each other. Robinett thanked police and fire and public works for their efforts working through the winter storm. Griffin said that Ferguson Collaborative and PROUD are holding a virtual session on community concerns for public safety and alternative solutions. March 6 at 6 pm. Noah spoke about the consent decree monitors town hall and also thanked public works for their work in the recent storm.

Phedra Nelson raised her hand to speak despite previously stating she had nothing to speak about. “Yeah, I just wanted to say something real quick. And you know, I realize that I am a new council person and learning every time we have our meetings, and just from day one after being sworn in just a total disrespect that is constantly done on these council meetings. It’s just appalling each time we are on these council meetings, and we talk about consistency and transparency and working together. And that doesn’t happen on these council meetings. And to Home Depot reached out to me as a community wellness director for the Gateway Region YMCA, as my representation for, they wanted to help Ferguson Woods, so that’s why Ferguson Woods was chosen. They wanted to help Ferguson. As an employee of the Gateway Regional YMCA, I applied for the grant to be able to provide service, those services, those items to the Ferguson Woods community.” Nelson further stated, “So let’s just be consistent when we’re talking about working together and being together and being transparent and respectful of each one another. As I haven’t seen respect of one another since I was sworn in.” [An additional story forthcoming will further explore these comments.]