Council Meeting Recap for 5/11/21: Too many shots fired, greenery and pavilion coming to West Florissant and more

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Sunshine Violations Watch: No mention of the Mayor’s Task Force was made at this meeting. Minutes, agendas, and recordings remain unannounced, although there was some apparent attempt to add some to the website that has since been wiped off. The city has never announced any meetings of the Task Force or its Subcommittees as required by law. The Ferguson Observer will keep you updated when a planned lawsuit is filed.

Video of the meeting is available at https://youtu.be/zqGMLVCxNpQ.

The first regular council meeting of May was an informative session. While you knew we had a shots fired problem, the total count just within the roughly 1/3 of the city currently covered by a ShotSpotter may surprise you, and a resident has lodged a formal complaint over the conduct of a council member.  Fortunately, we also have some good news to report, especially for the West Florissant corridor. The old car wash will be removed to be replaced with a pavilion, greenery, a small park area and a parking lot. Two apartment complexes have new owners looking for a fresh and better start. As COVID improves and we begin to gather again there is a special notice to be sure to use the Parks special events request to get necessary resources arranged through Parks and Recreation.

Extended recap below:

At open, Council member Toni Burrow (Ward 2) moved to amend the agenda to include a closed session and the motion was passed.

In public comments, a comment from Teyuna Darris was read concerning the conduct of Council member Fran Griffin. Darris noted that she had lodged a formal complaint and documentation concerning Griffin’s behavior. You can read the comment here.

Gerry Noll then made a comment that the City’s Civilian Review Board will be doing a program with PROUD on May 18, 2021 at 6:30 pm on zoom. Connection information can be found here.

Erica Brooks then attempted to give a public comment but had a poor connection and was asked to leave and return to try again. Brooks was able to give a statement later of her concerns regarding Ameren tree trimming and her complaints about poor cell phone coverage in her neighborhood.

Police Chief Jason Armstrong presented a slide presentation (the Ferguson Observer hopes to get a copy of this presentation available separately from the video) on data collected from the ShotSpotter from December 17, 2020 through April 30, 2021.

The ShotSpotter covers 2 square miles of Ferguson’s 6.18 square miles and focuses on a lower middle section area bounded roughly by the city’s western boundary, Airport to Darst to Fargo to include nearly all the city’s eastern edge past West Florissant, then to south in a line running roughly from Ferguson Avenue’s eastern end to Rowles and Ruggles.

Use of the ShotSpotter has increased the number of alerts to shots fired from 265 calls made to the Police Department in the same area over the same time period in 2019/20 to 1061 in 2020/21. This was an average of 7.86 alerts per day, 29.01 rounds fired per day, with 3.69 rounds per incident. 57% of the alerts are multiple gunshots. 74% of the alerts are between 5 pm and 3 am. The weekend has higher activity.

Overall, incidents were most densely clustered in Forestwood and throughout the West Florissant area of the city, as well as along the city’s western edge from Harvey to the city’s boundary with Kinloch. However, significant pockets of gunfire can be seen throughout the city. Hotspots of repeated incidents over the time period were most heavily concentrated in the eastern apartment complexes.

Chief Armstrong cited several instances of successful use of the ShotSpotter to improve response. These included a New Year’s Day Homicide on the 300 Block of S. Dellwood Ave. in which an arrest was successfully made, and a case of multiple shooters on Caddiefield Rd. in Canfield on April 2, 2021, in which two arrests were made and multiple guns were seized.

The Chief also stated they were trying to do more traffic details. He addressed the expired tags on cars and said it was more beneficial to keep expired tags on cars so that there is a marking on the vehicle to trace.

Chief Armstrong also said they are progressing with the CALEA (Commission of Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies) alongside work on consent decree mandated policies.

Elliott Liebson gave an update on the Burlington Coat Factory project. This will be placed in the building on West Florissant that has been vacant since Toys R Us went bankrupt on 2015. Construction is underway and signage has been approved. Burlington will use 60% of the building, leaving space for up to four additional tenants. Unfortunately, prospective tenants have recently pulled out and other businesses are now being contacted. The parking lot will also be improved as part of the work to include regrading the slope, adding landscaping and sidewalks, but that phase is on hold until tenants are confirmed, and their needs are known. Other possibilities that may happen are an EV charging site for electric vehicles and a monument sign for the corner of West Florissant and 270.

Chief John Hampton, also Acting City Manager, gave an update on COVID. Case numbers are coming down, last month we had 50-60 locations with positive cases, now we have 20-25. Vaccination pop ups are being planned. There will be vaccination shots available on May 17 at the Ferguson Fire Department and walk ins will be welcome, though reservations are accepted. They hope to be able to vaccinate children from 12 up then but are awaiting the CDC’s approval before that is confirmed. Other pop-up vaccination sites are in the planning stages. Chief Hampton stressed the continued need for social distancing.

Hampton also announced that new owners have come to several apartment complexes, including Northwoods and Canfield. They are meeting with the city and talking about improvements. Also important for the West Florissant corridor is that the old carwash will be taken down soon. Chief also stressed that as we begin to hold events again, it is important to use our limited city resources well. The events form needs to be filled out so that city can plan for resources that are needed, especially when the police or fire departments are needed.

Dave Musgrave, Parks Director, gave details on how to file a special events application. Parks and Recreation has updated the form with a new page giving estimated costs. Anyone interested in planning an event should contact Parks and Recreation to receive an application and begin working with the office to generate a cost estimate and determine needs. Parks will streamline the process for applicants and assist in securing resources needed for their plans. (Information on contacting the Parks Department can be found here.)

In perhaps the best news of the meeting, Musgrave noted that plans begun with a grant secured in 2019 are moving ahead for the removal of the old car wash on West Florissant. The Request for Proposals should be out in the next two months to tear down the car wash building and build a pavilion with restrooms, greenery, and parking lot. This project will tie in with the Great Rivers Greenway initiative expected to connect with West Florissant and provide a trail head.

Chief Hampton also gave notice that when the pool does open, temperatures will not be taken of people. This is part of the newly issued county COVID guidelines, in recognition that as the temperatures get hotter, so will the natural body temperatures of people.

A resolution selecting a vendor for front doors of the salt storage facility at the city public works was approved. This will resolve problems found in a state inspection of the facility.

Bill for second reading on a special use permit for Jade Laundry on Airport Rd. was passed. Council Member Burrows also informed the owner of a program that supplies books, tables, and chairs for children in areas where they gather and wait and offered to connect her to the resources.

In Miscellaneous, Council Member Fran Griffin (Ward 3) responded to the public comment made earlier in the meeting. She said that she knows they have not interacted often, but that those that had worked with her when they did not always agree found ways to work together. Griffin said she encouraged others to “like the wordage that you used in this letter, specifically the last part that had to do with community engagement” and stated that she looked forward to seeing what kind of complaints there were specifically.

Council member Burrow spoke of her appreciation of the neighborhood associations and noted that Ms. Darris had been unanimously voted in as the president of the Ferguson Neighborhood Association League. Burrow commended Darris for the work she has previously done in bringing Ward 2 associations together and said she expected “nothing but great things” as President of the Associations.

Council member Phedra Nelson (Ward 1) offered an update on the Halpin Park project in 3rd Ward and hoping for a June 1st ribbon cutting date.

Mayor Jones said she attended a meeting for police chiefs and mayors of North County.

The council then moved to closed session.