Ferguson’s Gaslighter-In-Chief

Mayor Ella Jones reacts to Eric Osterberg's sudden announcement of his resignation.

This morning’s Post-Dispatch carries a story which perfectly illustrates every problem we have with Mayor Jones. First, there’s what you won’t see: Jones falsely told the reporter that while there was talk of a recall on social media, “nothing official has been submitted to the city.” In fact, the official paperwork for the recall was submitted to the city on Friday morning, and the city clerk contacted one of the organizers to discuss logistics on Friday afternoon. On Monday afternoon, the city clerk sent an email to council, which includes the mayor, and the city attorney, notifying them of the filing. Whether she was in possession of this email at the time she spoke with the reporter, she certainly had a duty to correct the record after receiving the notification – and really, ought not to have made a public statement without first inquiring of the official responsible for receiving such documents. It befell us to correct this misstatement by the mayor, and it has been removed from the Post-Dispatch article.

On a more serious note, the mayor exhibits a complete lack of understanding of what is happening here. Mr. Osterberg, who is both qualified and enthusiastic, can go anywhere. He can work in a place where council respects him, political and racial drama doesn’t constantly distract him from his work, the pay is higher, the budget is flush, and there isn’t a huge backlog of work due to years of neglect by previous city managers. Make no mistake, Mr. Osterberg doesn’t have to seek employment elsewhere, it will find him, and saying that he “isn’t going anywhere” is nothing less than daring him to leave. Indeed, after her failed attempt at changing our charter to make herself a strong mayor, a position which would eliminate the city manager, one can’t help but suspect that nudging Osterberg toward the door could be her intention.

In fact, Mr. Osterberg’s resignation at last Tuesday’s council meeting was not merely an emotional outburst arising from an immature response to an isolated incident. We have observed council members attacking Mr. Osterberg during council meetings, and making unreasonable demands which take time from his already full schedule. A notable one, a few months ago, was the demand by councilor Burrow that he produce a line item accounting of the cost of our police dogs, who it is worth noting are actually not going anywhere. We are told that in closed meetings, the treatment of Mr. Osterberg is far worse, as the lack of public observers eliminates the thin veneer of decorum to which they submit in public forums.

But the conduct of some councilors in their meetings is but a part of our trouble. Even before Osterberg arrived, our mayor was acting like she was the city manager. Spending long days at city hall, Jones did not hesitate to give orders to city staff, who are then faced with the choice of obeying the mayor or following the direction of their own manager. And in fact, there are some at city hall who will do the mayor’s bidding in defiance of the city manager and their own supervisor, creating a chaotic atmosphere where serving the public often seems to be a low priority.

It is not unreasonable to conclude that Mayor Jones is dismissing Eric’s concerns because she is one of the primary causes. We hesitate to use this term, because it is almost always used improperly, but in fact the mayor is gaslighting Mr. Osterberg. Our charter is very clear: “council and its members shall deal with all city officers and employees who are subject to the direction and supervision of the manager solely through the manager. Neither the council nor its members shall give orders, directions, or instructions to any such officer or employee, either publicly or privately.” Mayor Jones has been a constant violator of this, and her misconduct is a good portion of the reason for his frustration.

We know that Mayor Jones loves to be in the limelight. But centering herself in this controversy, gaslighting Mr. Osterberg and throwing him under the bus, is the most destructive way to handle our serious problem. Make no mistake, it is an absolute lie that Osterberg “just got emotional.” His grievances are substantial, and ongoing. Osterberg could go somewhere else, and every day that some of our elected officials continue to abuse their power makes his departure more likely. The recall of councilor Burrow will be a big step toward remedying this problem. As for Mayor Jones, if she wants to be in the public eye, we suggest she stick with selfies at food pantries.