Misguided: The big committee misses the point

772

Mayor Jones established her task force with a great deal of fanfare last fall. She has recruited representatives from corporations and organizations with no obvious connection to Ferguson. And while the lack of meeting notices and other conventional trappings of public entities makes it difficult to be certain, one is under the impression that a great deal of time has been spent in meetings of the task force and its various subcommittees.

Unfortunately, Mayor Jones has completely failed to understand the scope and purpose of municipal government. Her most visible work as mayor seems focused on ceremonial appearances at events with no connection to the city. In fact, while she used her very active social media account to promote a vaccination clinic at the YMCA, perhaps prompted by her newly elected council ally who works there, she made no mention at all of the city’s own vaccination event at the fire department. It would be nice if the mayor actually promoted city sponsored events.

More troubling is the incessant focus on a task force which seems focused on everything but the urgent problems of our city. In her random wanderings about the city’s website, our tireless city hall reported came upon a small collection of documents from the task force which shed a little light on what they have been up to. The education subcommittee held a meeting on March 10, which was not announced in the city’s agenda center, and was held on a Zoom account belonging to Washington University rather than the city’s account. And this meeting focused on details of the Ferguson-Florissant school district, over which the city has absolutely no control. Meeting notes indicate the committee’s needs:

  • Need a Ferguson-Florissant School District Representative.
  • Need background information/audit related to Ferguson’s K-12, workforce training, and higher education that includes graduation rates, past reports and surveys on educational needs, what is needed and wanted in the community, past surveys of student’s parents, a list of programs in North County related to K-12 education, job training, and higher education, and other key data points.
  • Need to address the most pressing issues first with a long-term strategy in mind.
  • Need to ask Ferguson-Florissant K-12 students what their needs are. May ask student leadership groups to present to the committee.

Perhaps the mayor is unaware that the Ferguson-Florissant school district is a separate political entity, led by an elected board? While we certainly encourage and support community involvement in the school district, which is itself a misguided and failing entity in many aspects, a committee of our city government is not the place for that. We need those who have an interest in education to focus their efforts where they can actually make a difference, not on attending useless meetings which have no possibility of influencing the direction of the district. And we wonder whether city staff, which already had plenty to do, is being tasked with gathering and preparing the information demanded by these irrelevant subcommittees.

It is an unfortunate reality that municipal government is a completely unglamorous place. They patch potholes and mow parks, contract for trash pickup and cite homeowners for peeling paint and “open storage.” In normal times, municipal government only gains public attention when it fails. In Ferguson, that has happened with increasing regularity, and the pace has only hastened with Mayor Jones at the helm. We understand her desire to change the subject. It is far better for her political standing to hand out boxes of food at a pantry than to explain why, after a year in the mayor’s office, we still have no permanent city manager, a significantly understaffed police department, shabby streets, and no visible plan for improving anything. Improving the quality of life and the service of city government is hard work. But Mayor Jones seems to have taken a cue from Homer Simpson in her approach to government, and we are all paying the price.