Council Meeting Summary, October 11, 2022

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Video of the meeting can be found at this link.

Public Comments

Erica Brooks spoke of past personal grievances against Councilor Toni Burrow and gave her support to the recall petition.

Karla Bergeron said she believes Eric Osterberg is one of the, if not the best, things that has happened to Ferguson since 2014. She asked the council to let him do his job, and that if anyone cannot do this, they should resign and get out of his way.

Jill Holtrop spoke of her regret that the residents of Ferguson were not aware sooner of what has been going on behind the scenes. Now aware, citizens immediately came together and took action by canvassing Ward Two with a recall petition for Toni Burrow. She thanked Osterberg for staying and hoped that the conditions under which he made his decision to stay are always met.

Adrian Shropshire talked about the bad press the city was getting. He does not think council is doing their job. He also spoke about lack of information from the city about the Senior Housing and ARPA funds.

Laverne Mitchom said she did not understand why some on council are not following the charter. She said the charter is clear and that any council member, including the mayor, who directs any activity of any city employee is subject to recall or impeachment.

Nick Kasoff spoke of how people have become united in a way he has not seen for years to show their support for Eric Osterberg as City Manager. He believes that though it is unfortunate to be in this situation, we must stop egregious violations of interference and harassment. That does not mean there is not forgiveness, or that we want to hate or shame anyone, but that the city needs to move forward.

Michael Pierce stated that he was appalled at the way certain members of the council have treated Eric Osterberg and Stephen Robin. He stated, “You are not elected to govern by rumor and gossip. And I can only say I imagine the room tonight is filled with the stench of cowardice and incompetence and tyranny.”

Cassandra Butler indicated that she has hoped that Osterberg can bring more transparency, as had been his expressed desire during this interview. She wants to see the council consider such policies such as not allowing individual councilors to meet with the city manager unless authorized as a group. She also suggested such meetings be recorded and accessible to residents. She wants to see the council manage themselves as a group and guide the city manager on a policy level as a group.

Michael Wood spoke, stating that he had contacted the city trying to find out about work to be done on the collapse on Arline Avenue. He got frustrated talking to city staff about this. Woods continued that this was not the only problem, there are homes that need lawns cut. One on Arline has not been cut for two years. He spoke of his concern to better know what’s going on and what the city will do, or if he should make a plan to get away from Ferguson. But Woods also noted that he’s willing to do what it takes to clean up trash or do a bit of grass cutting.

Alan Mueller stated that he hoped Councilor Toni Burrow recognizes the harm she is doing to the community and will resign. If she will not resign, he believes the council should vote to remove her, as more harm can occur before recall elections can be held. He went on to give three examples of Burrow failing to follow procedure or being abusive: 1) Every time Burrow has said something such as “I’m going to call Elliot after this meeting and work this out” she has been in violation of the charter. 2) Burrow pressed to add a third person to have access to the city’s bank account. The city manager and financial director are, by charter, required to be bonded. Adding a third, unbonded person would be a liability should any fraud or mismanagement occur as the city could not recoup any losses. 3) Burrow demanded that members of the Economic Development Sales Tax Commission sign affidavits that the city was in compliance with state law even though members did not receive any of the information needed to truthfully sign the affidavit. Mueller also stated that Burrow subjected members to interruptions, bullying, and disrespect. Additionally, Mueller stated that he believes the city needs to request a formal audit from the state.

City Manager’s Report

Eric Osterberg explained that he did meet with council to discuss a way forward, with himself as the city manager directing staff and the council setting policy. In response to the public comments, Osterberg wanted to be clear that he feels what he has done is to place staff in a position to do their jobs and streamline processes internally. He does not believe that the improvements have simply been because he is here, “We’ve had a lot of staff do great things this past year and that’s not me. That’s the members of staff.” At the same time, he acknowledges we still have staff working multiple people’s jobs, and that can lead to sometimes making mistakes. He has asked both council and community for patience and understanding. He is looking to sustainably build revenues back.

Osterberg had two announcements from Parks and Rec. On Friday, October 21st pumpkin carving and a showing of the Addams Family movie will be held at Firehouse No. 1 on S. Florissant. Carving begins at 6:00 pm and the movie begins at 7:15 pm. On Saturday, October 29th the Fall Spooktacular will be held at the Community Center from 4:00 pm until 7:00 pm.

Special Presentation

Small Business Administration Public Information Officer Corey Williams made a presentation related to aid for those who suffered damage in the flooding of July 25-28th. The deadline for filing with FEMA was extended to November 7, 2022, for all homeowners, renters, and businesses. Registration can be done online at disasterassistance.gov, by calling 1-800-621-3362, using the FEMA mobile app, or by going to the Disaster Recovery Center at the Urban League on West Florissant (Open Mon-Friday 8:00-6:00 pm and Saturday 9:00-5:00 pm.)

Williams stressed that homeowners and renters should be aware that a referral to the Small Business Administration (SBA) does not require owning a business. SBA is able to provide low-interest loans to homeowners and renters to repair and replace personal property damaged by the flood. This can include vehicles. Loans are offered to those who are deemed to have the ability to repay. Requests for an increase in the loan can be made. Williams also noted that the interest rate does fluctuate, and borrowers may find they can get a lower rate now. He recommends anyone considering increasing an approved loan may want to act now as the rate is expected to rise.

Introduction of New Staff Member

Betty Johnson was introduced at the new Consent Decree Coordinator. She comes to Ferguson from the New Orleans Police Department.

Appointments

Linda Lipka explained that there are now two vacancies on the Traffic Commission. Shelia Walker-Powell submitted her resignation. Lipka noted that it was very useful to have a member who was also on the School Board. She acted as a liaison between the commission and schools and provided insights on how schools are impacted by traffic patterns. Lipka proposed bringing a vote back again for Stephen Robin for the first vacancy and recommended that Terry Tyson be appointed to the second opening. Tyson is also on the school board and would be able to replace Walker-Powell as a liaison.

First in consideration was the appointment of Stephen Robin, who had previous been voted against for reasons not publicly disclosed by councilors Naquittia Noah, Toni Burrow, Phedra Nelson, and Mayor Ella Jones. Mayor Jones stated that the only way a vote for Stephen Robin could be made is for one of those who had voted against him to make a motion to approve him. Lipka noted that Councilor Toni Burrow had made comments on Facebook that she was now willing to support Robin and asked for Burrow to make the motion. Burrow responded that she’d be willing to do that when they are finished with the Boards and Commissions they were doing in the special meeting prior to the regular council meeting tonight. Lipka continued to plead for a motion from any one of the four who previously voted against Robin.

Unclear from the video’s audio, but confirmed in a public comment on Facebook, Karla Bergeron called out while a motion was repeatedly requested, “Your silence speaks volumes.” As the Mayor tried to bring order Bergeron then said, “I know you can kick me out. I’m pissed, you people are obstructive,” as she left the council chambers.

After the disruption it was confirmed that Phedra Nelson made a motion to appoint Robin, and Burrow seconded. The motion passed to appoint Robin with 5 voting aye and 2 against. Naquittia Noah and Ella Jones voted against the appointment. The appointment of Terry Tyson was unanimously approved.

Requests

The council approved cancelling the scheduled meetings for November 22 and December 27, 2022, due to holidays.

Proclamations

Two proclamations were read for Fire Safety Week and Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Resolutions

A resolution passed to hold General Municipal Election April 4, 2023, for the election of Mayor.

Bills Requiring Second Reading

An ordinance amending municipal code regarding issuing business licenses to rent residential real estate was read and passed.

New Business

Councilor Toni Burrow spoke of wanting to have a letter written by the City Attorney sent to the Justice Department to terminate the consent decree and asked for a vote. The City Attorney, Apollo Carey, advised against such an action, and Mayor Jones, with the support of Councilor Linda Lipka, agreed it would not be consistent with the last discussion with the federal judge to send such a letter, especially since we are under the projected amount of money paid out to the monitor. More about this discussion can be found in this editorial, including Burrow’s questioning of Attorney Carey about whether his phone calls to the DOJ are on YouTube.

Miscellaneous

Naquittia Noah spoke about streets in need of repair and wanted residents to know it was not being ignored. She noted several neighborhoods have regular meetings over Zoom.

Mike Palmer noted that is has been difficult to get turn out to the Ward 3 neighborhood meetings. He said he was encouraged in speaking with the new consent decree coordinator, and also knows the city has more new hires coming up. He thinks there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Toni Burrow had a prepared statement which she read: “The larger community of Ferguson must be represented. Bygone days of special interest leaders that only serve a particular group of citizens is just that. I hope you are getting this message. We must go forward. The year 2022 demands a city council that is committed to all the people. We must all have voices here. The then collective of our community. All voices are needed and appreciated. I just want to know can you help me? Explain to the people that special interest groups, those folks that are here just for their group cannot be tolerated. You got to be for everybody. And the whole community needs to be represented to meet the needs of the whole focus of all Ferguson when you come up against a situation and you won’t be quieted, and you will tell the truth. When you get some pushback, that’s okay. It’s okay. If you’re doing it for all the people and not just for the special interest groups. I appreciate some of the comments that were made tonight. Because you believe what you’re saying without all the facts though, you can be led astray. And so I’m telling you now, the facts were not all presented here tonight. And there are things that the closed sessions prevent us from letting people see actually what is going on. And you can do a great job on the outside. But then when you see that the back peddling that goes on. If you’re worth your salt, you will speak up, when you speak up for those that have their special needs group and I don’t mean those people that are impoverished, or those that have special needs because of physical or mental situations, but the special needs of those that want to be in power that will not be shut down because they have those folks that they can manipulate. I’ll say it, regardless of their culture perspectives, have certain things, have certain rights that need to be addressed at the council level, which I tried to do that. I tried to be that voice. Diversity on the city council is a must. And somebody said it really clear. There is a lot of talent around this circle all the way around. A lot of people that I love with Ferguson. We have to use what we have. We have to be diverse. We do that a lot here. But when it comes to the place where it’s got to be my way or the highway, that’s not how you do it. That’s how you do business, not city business. So finally, I want to be clear, very clear. I’m here about choice. Purchasing my home is that choice. I can live anywhere I want, and this is where I choose to live. This is where I choose to do my service. I was doing service long before I got on this council. I will continue to do service. And for all those naysayers, all those who want it their way. Sorry, that’s not me. I’m going to do it the best of my ability to what the Ferguson residents need. And I appreciate all of you that came out tonight. And I think that it’s good to have open sessions face to face. I think it brings together relationships. I’m happy to be back in session. To see all of you no matter what you came to say. We have to act as one, we have to act out of that. And so whether it’s good news or bad news, whatever it is, we need to come here. This is the place you come to this house. There’s a scripture to go with that. That’s okay. But if you come here, I believe that you will get some satisfaction. I hope you’re seeing that we’re all trying to do our best for the city.”

Heather Robinett stayed brief, saying that she welcomed Betty Johnson and was grateful Osterberg stayed.

Linda Lipka told Eric Osterberg she believes he will grow with this position to the benefit of the city. Lipka was disappointed with Toni Burrow having posted her statement on Facebook but not following through in the meeting. She thanked Phedra Nelson for putting the right person on the Traffic Commission.

Phedra Nelson reported that neighborhood meetings have been regularly going on. She also announced that a free flu and COVID vaccine event will be held October 29th, noon to 3 pm at the Emerson YMCA.