Since he left office, opponents of former mayor James Knowles have spread rumors of his secret plot to return as Ferguson’s city manager. They said that Jeff Blume was a placeholder, keeping the seat warm so that Knowles could be installed as city manager at some point. The sinister Knowles, manipulating public officials behind the scenes, made for a nifty story. But it wasn’t true. Despite Mr. Blume’s abrupt departure, Knowles has had no hand in running the city. Indeed, despite a paucity of qualified applicants, a crisis which required two searches before council finally settled on Eric Osterberg, Knowles did not at any time step forward as a potential city manager, in an acting or permanent capacity.
Now, the faction which supports Mayor Jones is spreading an even more harmful, and equally false, piece of gossip: The word around town is that if Mayor Jones fails to retain her majority on council, the “white faction” will fire Osterberg, and replace him with Knowles. This is an absurd piece of fabrication for several reasons.
First, the council members who oppose Mayor Jones have been quite satisfied with Osterberg’s service as city manager. After years of mismanagement and chaos, Osterberg has brought professionalism, a vision for our community, and a steady hand at the helm of city government. While Osterberg could not instantly fix everything, opponents of Mayor Jones agree that he is steering us in the right direction. Should the majority on council shift, Osterberg would be more secure in his position than he is today.
More important, it is also widely known that Mayor Jones would prefer to shift the city to a strong mayor system, like they have in smaller cities like Dellwood. This would require a change in our city charter. And by no coincidence, Mayor Jones has appointed a commission to revise the charter – and declined to say why she believes it is necessary. Switching to a strong mayor would mean a huge pay increase for Mayor Jones, absolute power for her in the daily operation of the city, and firing Mr. Osterberg.
Finally, and most important of all, Mr. Knowles has no interest in the position. He now serves as city administrator of Dardenne Prairie, where the median income is more than double that of Ferguson, the police department is not under a consent decree, and the city isn’t a throwaway line in every news story about racial conflict. His salary is nearly as much as it would be in Ferguson, and the benefits are better. And not least of all, the last two board of alderman meetings for which minutes have been published lasted less than an hour each.
It’s unfortunate that after two years in office, Mayor Jones can find no better way to push her power than again raising the bogeyman of James Knowles. It would be wonderful if our mayor could point to the achievements of her administration, rather than sweeping scandal and failure under the rug and changing the subject. But alas, it is not so. Crime is out of control. Cars crash into utility poles and buildings, and off-road vehicles travel our arterial roads without any fear of consequence. The streets are crumbling, park maintenance is at an all time low, and the police department is dangerously understaffed. Aside from promoting her own image ad nausem, the mayor has accomplished little in the past two years. With nothing else to point to, her faction is now pushing the absurd notion that there is a racist plot to get rid of our city manager.
Finally, it is worth noting that we supported Eric Osteberg for city manager, calling him “an easy choice.” We urged his hiring, and further said this:
It is our hope that, with a permanent city manager in place, other errors in our government can be corrected. In the vacuum which has existed here for some time, Mayor Jones has spent far too much time at city hall, and exercised far more authority than our city charter allows. It is our hope that the mayor will allow Mr. Osterberg to perform the duties of his position without the constant interference which has hindered city government since her win, and will resume the duties of mayor as outlined in our charter.
Unfortunately, this has not happened, and every area of our city is the worse for it. We continue to have full confidence in Mr. Osterberg, and hope he remains to serve Ferguson for many years. Voters should keep this, and the sad condition of our city under Mayor Jones’ leadership, in mind as they consider what they are being told about the upcoming election.