Editor’s note: Original material used to prepare this article can be viewed here.
Late in May, Mayor Ella Jones reached out to a personal contact in the County Executive Office to request a complimentary bandwagon for an event for the City of Ferguson. The action was illegal in several counts, and led to further violations of law. First, the event was not being held by the City of Ferguson. Rather, it was a commercial event, promoted as a ribbon cutting for the new real estate office of Andreal Hoosman, a longtime friend and campaign fundraiser of Mayor Jones. Furthermore, since the mayor of Ferguson has no routine administrative authority, it is unlawful for her to direct the work or staff, or to perform staff duties.
What is clear from information released by St. Louis County, Mayor Jones, in representing herself as an official of Ferguson acting for the city, committed fraud when she requested a bandwagon with all fees waived, for the sole purpose of a private event held by a private business. According to the County’s website, bandwagon fees are a minimum of $775 for four hours or less. This request (see below) is first seen in an email sent on May 20, 2021, to Mayor Jones from Ethel M. Byndom, the Director of Community Engagement in the Office of the County Executive. Seven days later, Mayor Jones replies with a request for having a bandwagon for at least a full day. No application form was submitted, the Parks staff was simply told by Byndom that a complimentary bandwagon was requested for the city by the mayor. The Observer reached out to Byndom, leaving three messages requesting comment and clarification regarding the arrangements for this free trailer, but has not received a response.
On May 31st, a new email thread begins when Byndom sends notice to Mayor Jones that a complimentary bandwagon has been reserved for the city and requesting details on the place and time for setting it up. The next day, Jones sends the email to Dave Musgrave, Director of Ferguson Parks, instructing him to contact Hoosman to arrange placing the bandwagon for her event. Musgrave responds within minutes assuring the Mayor and Byndom he will get the information to them that day and promptly complies with his promise. The email thread clearly demonstrates that the mayor has overstepped her legal boundaries and has taken the prohibited action of personally directing staff in their work.
The City of Ferguson has failed to fulfill an information request made under the Sunshine law for providing a copy of the application for the event submitted by Andreal Hoosman, what fees and costs were paid, and associated communication despite repeated inquiries. However, sources have indicated that the original request was for use of a city parking lot across the street from Hoosman’s business, along with a request that S. Florissant be closed to traffic during her event. City staff are believed to have suggested changing the venue to Plaza 501 rather than closing the street, and somehow the initial costs estimated by the city needed for payment were to be reduced in the final event format. This failure to provide information raises suspicions of whether the mayor’s friend was given a discount or had fees waived, as well as what extent the mayor may have played in further directing city staff to work on the private event.
Another complication came when a flyer for the event was released by Hoosman using the logo of the City of Ferguson. Questions directed to Council Member Naquittia Noah (3rd Ward) about the use of the logo on the graphic she was promoting for the event and whether the city was involved went unanswered and were pointedly ignored. Acting City Manager John Hampton did respond, stating that the event was not the city’s. However, the use of the logo continued. An additional Sunshine request for information regarding the council’s approval of the logo has also passed the set deadline for a response from the city despite repeated inquiries. Under the city’s Code of Ordinances in Section 1-20 part b, “No person, association, corporation, or other entity shall assume, adopt, display, or use the city emblem as pictured in subsection (a) of this section, or an emblem nearly resembling as to be an imitation thereof, without first obtaining authorization from the city council.” On a Facebook post questioning the appropriateness of the use of the logo for a private event, Mayor Jones responded, “No, that is not the city logo this has gold in it,” and a second time saying “That is not the city logo. Her event has a gold background and shaped like the city logo.” Other than the mayor’s comments above defending her friend’s use of the logo, there has been no public notice of council approval of the city logo for this event.
Mayor Jones has violated the city charter by directing staff, performing administrative tasks, and allowing the city logo to be unlawfully used. More importantly, Mayor Jones obtained free bandwagon rental valued at nearly $800 from St. Louis County, for commercial use by a friend and campaign fundraiser, by fraudulently representing that it was being obtained for a city sponsored event. Because the county prosecutor is a public supporter of Mayor Jones, this must be handled by a special prosecutor, or by federal authorities.