Council Meeting Summary for 2/28/23: Controversial Bill Passed and New Councilor Appointed

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The Tuesday Council meeting had its controversial moments in the passing of a bill some consider unethical and in the appointment of a new Councilor, Blake Ashby, whose remarks included a comment about “Those parts of the consent decree that we’re not going to do.”

Motion to Amend Agenda

Motion by Phedra Nelson to amend the agenda to allow for 3 minutes for each applicant of the Ward 2 Council vacancy to make a statement as to where they feel they are most qualified to represent Ward 2.  Nelson also asked for discussion with the council to make that decision. Motion fails (Nelson and Noah voting for, Palmer, Robinett, and Lipka against).

Public Comments

Jamil Franklin, an applicant for the Ward 2 vacancy, spoke on his credentials for appointment to council. He has lived in Ferguson for seven years and works for St. Louis County in the Health Department as a Waste District Contract Supervisor. He has previously done community organization work in the West End neighborhood of St. Louis. He has a background working with people from all walks of life. Franklin considers Ferguson to be his forever home and is raising three daughters here. If not selected he is willing to work and serve on committees.

Kelley Frazier, also an applicant for the Ward 2 vacancy, spoke. She has lived here for a few years now and she and her husband have made their American dream here as homeowners. We all want peaceful neighborhoods, to ensure our voices are heard, and to live without fear of crime. Frazier understands service, she works as a teacher, a thankless yet rewarding job. She seeks to serve, whether as a teacher, a volunteer, or a future council member.

Blake Ashby, another applicant for the Ward 2 vacancy, spoke. He has lived in Ferguson 12 years now and his wife Dara has lived here about 25 years. He said they were not active until Michael Brown’s death, but that was an eye-opener for them. They joined the Neighborhood Policing Steering Committee. He said that work was trying to get residents to interact with the police department and to have an impact on the consent decree. “If you think about Mike Brown, you know, it was a good thing for our country. It started the conversation that our country needed to have, and we are a better country for that. But it was also a giant decree for a tiny city. And so it feels like we’ve reached a point where we’re kind of spinning our wheels on the consent decree and lots of stuff is happening. But we aren’t actually moving toward inclusion and embracing transparency.” He continued, “Frankly, we also need to look at those parts of the consent decree that we’re not going to do.” Ashby said his background is in working with startup companies. He has worked to start up nonprofits, and also with the Greenlight dispensary in Ferguson.

Annette Jenkins spoke of her frustration of the council making decisions but not letting people know what is going on. “First of all, Chief Hampton, I would like to know was your first executive order to push Chief McCall out?” Jenkins has never such a city in disarray. She feels it was wrong when NPSC (Neighborhood Policing Steering Committee) was told to “stay in their lane” when they worked on a conflict of interest policy. Since 2013 we have had 5 or 6 Chiefs of police. She questions how many have been forced to resign or pushed out.

Alan Mueller, also an applicant for Ward 2 vacancy spoke concerning comments sent to council earlier about Bill 7241 on the meeting’s agenda. Mueller does not wish to exchange private emails typically, as he believes public comment is the more publicly transparent way to communicate. Mueller believes there is a difference in actions made because something is legal and the true ethics of those actions and the public perception of those actions. He believes that passing the bill will “result in inevitable distrust within our community.” Mueller said that Councilor Robinett asked him how he would deal with members of the community who voice dissatisfaction and anger. Mueller believes, “Avoiding the kinds of triggering actions stemming from Bill 7241 is a start. Effective government strives to develop true compassion, stability, and hope. These qualities all transcend the letter of the law. Transparency and fostering participation will allow our government and community to be seen as allies.” Mueller later continued, “The fate of our community is far more important than our personal little victories. Whatever role I play after this evening, I hope my actions can help engage our neighbors to find common ground and work together.”

Adrian Shropshire spoke about his “great concerns” on the direction of the city. He spoke of the number of Police Chiefs that have come and gone, city planners, HR directors, code enforcement all gone in recent years. He wants to see the council bring back a citizen panel as part of hiring a new Chief of Police. He also spoke about FYI (Ferguson Youth Initiative) and said that “nobody cares to help us.” He and Aaron Harris pick up the kids and bring them to the youth room downstairs every Friday. Aaron tried to get ARPA funding but was turned down. He does not think the city supports FYI.

Erica Brooks also spoke as an applicant for the Ward 2 appointment. She has lived here eleven years. She served as the Chair for the Central Elementary anniversary and worked to save the Metro bus route. She has been a past candidate for Council in Ward 2. She spoke about the need to repair streets, have better lighting, and improve the city. She did a neighborhood petition to get a Community Development Block Grant for street repair.

Nick Kasoff spoke first on how in the last meeting two people used public comments to make political speeches and he asks that we not do that. He spoke on each of the five applicants for the Ward 2 vacancy appointment and highlighted the positive strengths of each. Kasoff also stressed that he hopes those not selected will look to join boards and commissions which have many vacancies.

Cassandra Butler spoke first about the turnover of city personnel. She fears that staff is leaving “because the council has developed a culture of micromanaging the executive leadership.” She noted that the consent decree status hearing is coming up soon. Butler has been to most of the hearings and has heard often in the past when the City Attorney has told the judge the city is behind due to a vacancy for City Manager, for Police Chief, “So here we go again.” Her last point was on ethics and used Bill 7421 as an example. She finds this confusing for the city to buy the property on Barat and how the city already has made a call for bids and only received one bid. “How could we have a person already bid for a property we don’t own yet?” Last, Butler noted that she thinks “how this Council makes the decision to fill Toni’s position is going to be very telling.”

Interim City Manager’s Report

Koray Gilbert spoke to council for the first time as the new Director of Public Works. He previously served in interim capacity. He said he was working on things that had fallen behind, including CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) funding for street projects and projects are being scheduled for Spring and Summer. He reported that turn lane markings on Brotherton at Florissant were scheduled to be done the next day. A grant application for the Atmore/Elkins/Woodwinds project has been submitted. He is working to bring Public Works back on track, including the proper staffing. John Hampton also noted he has been talking with Koray about getting staff trained so that work like the tree trimming, having a concrete finisher, can have work done in-house and save money.

Dave Musgrave reported that summer camp registration opens on March 6th. On March 18th a volunteer event will be held to place mulch at four parks and lunch will be provided. Volunteers can find information and sign up at this link. On March 25th there will be a an electronics recycling event at Forestwood Park, find more at this link. Bunny Brunch will be held on April 8th at the Community Center. Information and registration are available at this link. And on April 11th there will be a special event at Wayside Dog Park for Ember’s Dog Egg Hunt. More information on that can be found at this link.

Hiring for seasonal positions with Parks and Rec has also started for both Splash and Summer Adventure Camp, and year round positions are also available. Interested applicants can see descriptions and find applications here. In grants updates, we have received a grant to replace the pavilion at Forestwood Park as well as four tennis courts. A digital sign will also be installed. The tennis courts have been demolished and concrete should be poured next week. The West Florissant park plan is about 80% finished. That will replace the old car wash with a pavilion and restrooms. Bids should go out in April.

Resolutions

Resolution 2023-08 amending the 2022-23 General Fund Budget to increase spending on certain items was brought forward. Discussion clarified that no money was being pulled from reserve. Resolution was passed.

Bills

Bill No. 7241 for the post-third property acquisition of 58 S. Barat for redevelopment by Palmer Residential Services, LLC was brought forward. City Attorney Apollo Carey was asked to share the opinion he had already provided to Council. Carey explained that the city has put out an RFP several times for this property and received no interest. The property has been a longtime source of complaints. An opportunity arose where Councilor Palmer would be willing to redevelop it. Former City Manager Eric Osterberg asked Carey to review the Charter which addresses direct financial interest. It was determined that there was not a direct or indirect financial interest because 1) there were no incentives, no tax breaks, no financial assistance, 2) the property had been up for RFP and nobody bid on it, so there was no market for this property, and 3) the city was getting complaints from residents demanding that the city act and do something about the property. Given these circumstances, Osterberg determined it was the city’s best interest to allow Councilor Palmer to have his company bid on it. Carey commented further that his recommendation was that nothing be hidden, and Carey stated that he did not believe anything was hidden in this process. Councilor Heather Robinett noted that if the city tore it down it would cost the city $10-15,000. In further discussion it was noted that the Charter is clear that any officer or employee of the city trying to sell supplies, services, or sell property to the city is forbidden. This situation is the opposite, instead the city is looking to transfer property from the city. Councilor Naquittia Noah added the comment that she would like the same effort made for 837 S. Florissant, a vacant she says she receives many call about. The motion passed with 3 Ayes, 2 Nays and 1 abstention. Voting for the bill were Robinett, Mayor Ella Jones, and Councilor Linda Lipka.

Unfinished Business

Councilor Noah asked if the Jolly Trolley was available for use for the March consent decree status hearing. Dave Musgrave explained they had secured a driver and were working on drop off points.

New Business

In the matter of the Ward 2 appointment to fill the vacant seat Councilor Robinett stepped in as chair as the Mayor is excluded from discussion or voting under the Charter. Robinett opened for nominations and Councilor Lipka moved to appoint Blake Ashby. Councilor Mike Palmer seconded. In calling the roll for a vote on the motion, Councilor Phedra Nelson stated “Frazier” before properly changing her vote on the motion to Nay. The motion passed with 3 Ayes and 2 Nays. Voting for Ashby were Councilors Palmer, Robinett, and Lipka.