Ferguson City Council Meeting Summary 1/10/2023

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This lengthy agenda sputtered in moving forward a number of items on the agenda, most notably the changes to the consolidate the Board of Adjustments with the Housing Board of Appeals, Building Board of Appeals, and Zoning Board of Appeals due to lack of notice and discussion with board members. In a surprising vote, Naquittia Noah, Ella Jones, and Phedra Nelson voted against the Redistricting Bill. The bill was the product of the Redistricting Commission, a formal public hearing, and council discussion. None of the three voting against the bill have publicly voiced concern about the Commission’s proposal in council meetings and previously voted to move the proposal forward. The sole dissenter speaking against this bill has been Don Stevens, well known as a personal friend of both Jones and Nelson. (In case you missed it, the Observer published this editorial concerning Stevens’ objections in November prior to the council meeting which gave 6 votes of approval to move the Commission’s proposal forward.)

Council Member Toni Burrow was absent.

Public Comments

Erica Brooks said the city website is not detailed and needs more about West Florissant Great Streets and the Ferguson 2040 plan. She does not believe citizens have access to information about when board and commission meetings take place. She thinks there are extra meetings taking place that don’t include people on boards like EDST (Economic Development Sales Tax) Commission.

Lewis McKinney, a developer of affordable housing, has been in ongoing negotiations with the City of Ferguson for a project. He offered a proposal of a purchase option contract of $250,000. He has already shared this offer with the City Attorney. He now proposes no incentives, but for the city to simply sell him the property.

Joe Schroeder, a member of the Board of Adjustments said he was notified by another that changes were happening to the boards and said he knew nothing about this and was here to see why changes were needed and if it would affect the Board of Adjustments.

Melanie Randels, chair of the Economic Development Sales Tax (EDST), stated she was speaking as a concerned citizen. Since 2016 1.6 million has been spent without any input of this commission, since then there have been promises for transparency and inclusion of the community. But her request to be a co-host on Zoom was denied and she wanted to know why. She complained that people can’t get on the zoom because no one is watching to allow people in the meeting. Her biggest issue is that there are no plans for the funds for the West Florissant development. She also stated that EDST members are not included in development meetings. She states that $250,000 of EDST has been or are requested to be moved to the general fund, and $5000 was spent on consulting. She also stated that plans for acquiring 123 S. Florissant [vacant building on south side of the Savoy] for a new city hall when it should have been placed on the restoration list in hope of redeveloping that area is “a slap in the face. And now you may be wondering how I know that, but that’s for me to know and I’m sure the community to find out later.” She further complained that plans to put a Chick-fil-A in without talking to impacted residents and with no impact plan was not what she wanted to be part of when appointed.

Nick Kasoff spoke that the Traffic Commission is hindered by not being able to access data from the Jamar unit purchased and delivered to the city 81 days ago. He had been told that Public Works would handle the placement at each location the device is used and not commission members. But in the wait for the unit to be placed for its first study, 27 speed studies could have been completed but were not and questioned the role of the mayor in interfering given the disclosure of texts from Ella Jones about the matter.

Donald Stevens spoke again about the Redistricting Commission’s recommendation and wants the council to reconsider. He also thinks council should reconsider the Charter Commission.

Cassandra Butler spoke on having the city “embrace” transparency. Butler said that as a new member of the Personnel Board she has yet to be contacted by the city staff liaison, nor has she received a response to emails she has sent. She criticized how the city staff member in the EDST meeting she attended seemed to be controlling and gave limited information.

Gerry Noll again reminded council that there are vacancies on the Civilian Review Board and that people have submitted applications, but council has not moved to appoint. He noted that the December meeting was cancelled, they are having about half of their meetings canceled for lack of a quorum. Noll also spoke about data being gathered for reports and plans to present to council about April/May.

Alan Mueller commented as a member of the Board of Adjustments on three bills on the agenda in this meeting. These bills consolidate functions of several commissions into the Board of Adjustments, none of which has been addressed to the Board. Mueller asked that council take no action until the changes can be presented to the Board of Adjustment and to the other effected boards.

City Manager’s Report

Eric Osterberg started by noting that he had understood the request for the commission meeting on Zoom was for the Chair to be the sole host of the meeting. He stated that in the past there have been complaints of chairs not allowing certain persons on the Zoom, and so he wanted a city staff member to act as host.

Osterberg gave a presentation on the use of ARPA funds. (Note: the slides used were not visible on Zoom.) The city was awarded about $4 million, paid in two installments, the last was paid at the end of 2022. Resident input was solicited in shaping how to allocate the funds. $3000 was spent in outreach about the ARPA funds, $15,000 was used for laptops for city use, and $1.2 million was used to recover lost revenue to the city during the pandemic. Funding still in process includes $80,000 for Park scholarships and fee reductions. A process is being created for the summer season to notify families that a portion or all of the costs can be waived. $500,000 is allocated for new streetlights and $300,000 towards an accelerated demolition schedule of abandoned homes. The last items are $250,000 for housing repair grants, which is in progress through FNIP (Ferguson Neighborhood Improvement Program) and to be addressed in a separate presentation.

Councilor Noah asked if $30,000 could be given to FYI. Osterberg responded that reallocating money would be a decision of the city council as a budget amendment. Councilor Lipka asked where the money would me taken from and pointed out that many hours of meetings and conversations with the community and council have taken place to allocate this money.

Police Chief’s Report

Chief Frank McCall reported that two applicants for the police academy have been lost due to injuries. Applications keep coming in and interviews continue. McCall stated that “We are currently now competitive with other agencies within our region. So we don’t have that to hold us back anymore.” McCall also asked people to be careful during the holidays and be careful about putting empty boxes in your trash that can be seen. Councilor Lipka asked about the rash of car break-ins reported on social media. Chief McCall said people need to be sure that car doors are kept locked. Lipka asked McCall for ideas about improving traffic control. McCall answered that they will be getting license plate screenings.

Special Presentations

Robert McGartland spoke for Taste in Ferguson and presented a plaque thanking the city for ten years of support for their annual fundraising event. They have raised about $350,000 I scholarship funding for Ferguson students.

Larry Robinett presented on the Ferguson Neighborhood Improvement Program (FNIP), which has had trouble moving business forward due to a lack of a quorum. He noted that he was pleased that council amended the agenda tonight to appoint a new FNIP member. The mission of the FNIP is to provide and enhance housing opportunities, improve the quality of life, and foster a spirit of community among the residents of Ferguson. FNIP fulfills its mission by promoting housing development and conservation, and by offering programs and services to increase the pride, distinction, and livability of its neighborhoods, and to improve the appearance and value of individual homes. The Board approved two programs: The Good Neighbor Grant program and the Neighborhood Improvement Matching program. They also received $250,000 of ARPA funds for use in the Exterior Improvement Program. They have been drafting a strategic plan which focuses on improving the rate of homeownership in Ferguson. Of the ARPA funded Exterior Improvement program, 38 applications have been made and 36 have been approved.

Appointments

Mika Covington appointed to Ferguson Neighborhood Improvement Program (FNIP)

Debra Grady appointed to Civilian Review Board (CRB)

Rodney Fickas appointed to the Ferguson Special Business District (FSBD)

Liquor License

235 S. Florissant Rd., Hive Café, approved

Appeal Request

Hughes Capital submitted an appeal of the suspension of the rental license for Versailles Apartment Complex on the basis for reasons that included that the notice was sent to Hughes Capital, which is not the owner of complex which actually holds the license. The appeal can be seen here at this link. City Manager Eric Osterberg said that they continue to be moving forward with enforcement of codes at the complex.

Proclamation

A proclamation was read for Katherine “Kitty” Harrison honoring for being selected to serve as the Greater North County Chamber of Commerce Chair of the Board.

Resolutions

Cost-Sharing between St. Louis County and Ferguson to improve Hereford and Chambers making the city responsible for 20% of the total cost, with annual payments of $100,000. Our total contribution will be $300,000. This will include all work, including repaving, restriping, and narrowing of the road. Eric Osterberg also offered additional comments to council that a demo of the road diet is being readied so they can determine if the impact is as anticipated. All equipment is on hand, they are waiting for the weather to be warm enough to proceed with work. Should it not work as anticipated the plans can be changed. Resolution passed.

Contract with Spencer Contracting for street repair in the areas of 43 Spring, 903 Airline, and 6155 Emerald. Resolution passed.

Budget amendment to allow for $35,000 salary to partner with the Washington University Brown School of Social Work for interns to work on community development. Resolution passed.

Bills Requiring First Reading:

An Ordinance amending sections related to the Housing Board of Appeals which transfers authority from that board to the Board of Adjustment.

An Ordinance amending sections related to the Building Board of Appeals and Zoning Board of Appeals which transfers authority from that board to the Board of Adjustment.

An Ordinance authorizing a proposition to voters for approval for a 3% special sales tax on sales of adult use marijuana sold in Ferguson. A public hearing is to be scheduled.

Bills Requiring Second Reading:

Special Use Permit to Erin Strong for the operation of a daycare at 10716 New Halls Ferry. Passed.

Ordinance amending sections related to architectural review. Lipka spoke in favor of holding off a vote. A workshop was proposed for February 9th at 6:00 pm for all involved parties to participate and discuss. This bill postponed to February.

An ordinance to enter into an agreement with Great River Greenways to build a new trail. Passed.

An ordinance amending boundaries of city wards. Noah, Jones, and Nelson voted against; Palmer, Robinett, and Lipka voted for. Tie vote fails. The Redistricting Commission will be notified.

Unfinished Business

Councilor Lipka brought up the Jamar device that has not yet been deployed for traffic studies. She recommended use of a liability waiver to allow commission members to place it. Osterberg stated he was not comfortable with that. Staff has been working with Jamar to correctly set up the unit and met with Jamar for additional training. The issue was tabled.