Nick Kasoff, Ward 2 — Council Candidate Questions

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Please note that questions were solicited by Sara Holmes and none were shared with any candidate until emailed to the whole group of those who had responded (David Williams, Erica M. Brooks, Jamil Franklin, Nick Kasoff, and Mika Covington). Blake Ashby and Phedra Nelson never received the questions as they did not respond to emails to their city email addresses asking to provide a suitable contact email for campaign purposes. Nick Kasoff is an editor for the Ferguson Observer but, as noted, was given no advantage and did not receive the the questions until the time all candidates were given them.

1. What skills do you bring to the table to help run the city more efficiently while delivering quality services to the residents of Ferguson?

I have a long track record of “getting it done” for Ferguson residents. Every week, though I’m not an elected official, somebody contacts me for help. I work behind the scenes with city staff, loop in county, state, and utility company personnel as needed – and get it done. As the next representative from ward 2, I will continue that work on behalf of our residents.

2. In addition to the Consent Decree, Ferguson still has a class action lawsuit pending that represents over 11,000 people who were jailed by Ferguson since 2010. How do you view these court actions considering current criticisms that the enforcement of laws is lacking in Ferguson? Should police write traffic tickets with fines to those who break traffic laws?

We need serious traffic enforcement. That starts with the police department, where we need a full staff and a willingness to do what is necessary. More important, we need to find a way to reduce the failure to appear rate in city court, where on a normal day, ¾ of defendants fail to appear. If there is no consequence for throwing tickets in the trash, it does no good to write them.

3. Do you believe the city council has or has not fulfilled legal and ethical obligations to operate with full transparency? If not, what needs to be done?

Transparency is a huge issue, both for city council and the city as a whole. I believe council should minimize the use of closed sessions, using them only when they are mandatory, or when there is very compelling reason. Council currently goes to closed session whenever the law permits, conducting the public’s business out of the public eye far more often than they should.

Council must also compel better performance by the city clerk, who reports to council, yet is responsible for satisfying sunshine requests. The prompt, complete satisfaction of requests for public records is a vital element of transparency, at which the city is completely failing. I also support implementation of the state law measure allowing no cost sunshine requests when they are in the public interest, such as from media.

4. Do you believe the city budget is equitable and accountable? Why or why not?

The city budget, as a high level financial document, doesn’t really address those issues. It is implementation of that budget in the daily work of council that brings equity and accountability to city finances.

5. Describe an ethical dilemma you have faced. How did you resolve it?

Years ago, a tax client who was unable to produce accurate business records asked me to prepare a return with “estimates” for important figures in their return. As an accredited tax professional, I am bound by the ethical requirements of the Internal Revenue Code, which prohibits filing false returns. So of course, I declined. But that governing law is an easy one for me to follow, because my guiding principles in life are to be truthful, transparent, straightforward, and empathetic. 

6. What are the three top priorities the city needs to work on now to improve the quality of life for residents?

Traffic, crime, and development are the three top priorities. As chair of the traffic commission, I pushed to obtain a speed study device, which we have deployed to measure hundreds of thousands of cars at locations all over the city. Commission member Terry Foushee has done a wonderful job of preparing reports, which we have distributed publicly and provided to the police department to help with targeted enforcement. We also support structural changes to reduce speed, including speed bumps.

Crime is the driving force that is pushing good people to leave Ferguson. We need to staff up the police department so that proactive policing can resume throughout the city. I believe the very survival of Ferguson as a good place to live depends on accomplishing this quickly.

Development, both commercial and residential, is building the future of Ferguson. We need viable new businesses, both in the Florissant Road business district and on West Florissant. We need to look at the zoning code for our downtown business district, which presently is excluding some good businesses. We need to get moving on demolishing unsavable homes, which are a cancer on their neighborhoods. And we need to find ways to encourage quality residential development on the many vacant lots in the city.

7. How do you see yourself supporting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts as a council member? How have you been involved in DEI already?

The best DEI program for Ferguson would be to make a greater effort to hire Ferguson residents. In a city that is 70% black, that will give us a diverse workforce with a commitment to our city. But in doing so, it is important that we ensure an open hiring process, not nepotism or patronage. Every position must be posted, and a standardized process must be followed that gives every candidate a fair chance.

8. What are some of your ideas to improve the quality of housing in Ferguson for both multi-family and single-family homes?

First, let’s consider what has NOT worked: our “responsible landlord initiative.”  I was a new resident in 2006 when council passed this, and it sounded like a good idea. It has ended up being a waste of money for the landlord, and a complete failure in preventing abuse and blight. I imagined that inspections would prevent dilapidated homes, and that the threat of being moved to provisional status would induce landlords to deal with problem tenants. None of that has happened.

To improve the quality of the existing housing stock, we should replace this ineffective law with something better: a consistent enforcement of the exterior appearance codes throughout the city, on rental, owner occupied, and most importantly on vacant homes. We have houses that sit empty for years, and so long as the owners ignore the city, there is no consequence. We literally allow empty houses to sit until they need to be demolished – and that demolition ends up being done at city expense.

City inspectors should WALK every block of the city at least once a year. I don’t support nitpicking every resident, but they can find the big problems and get things heading in the right direction. It should be a rare occasion that a resident has to call the city to report a big problem that they are not already aware of.

Of course, code enforcement is the front line of preserving our housing stock. One way we could take this to the next level is by hiring a full time city attorney, something which could be done at a lower cost than our current outsourced representation. A full time attorney could file lawsuits on behalf of the city, pushing walkaway owners to shape up or sell.

We also have much work to do with the apartment complexes. I’ll address that in question 14, which is obviously targeted at me.

9. Do you support the abolishment of package liquor stores in Ferguson, leaving the current stores open but not allowing any new ones to open?

Sort of. Liquor stores of the type we have in Ferguson right now are a blight on the community. They are a focal point of crime and litter. Nobody wants to live next door to one. Not only don’t I think we should allow new ones, I also support strict enforcement of city codes on the ones we already have. The fact that we allow dilapidated and tax delinquent liquor stores to continue year after year is unconscionable.

However, there is such a thing as a good liquor store. We buy our coffee at a gourmet shop in Clayton where about 80% of the store is liquor. Randall’s is a wonderful liquor store, as are the Total Wine & More shops. If somebody wants to open a liquor store with a larger footprint, a higher quality of products, and no tobacco, I’d welcome that.

10. Do you support amending the city’s Charter to give more power to the Mayor? Why or why not?

Absolutely not. Our city’s day to day affairs are run by the city manager, who theoretically is able to do so without political interference. This results in a well run city, rather than a machine to favor the mayor’s friends and attack her enemies. In fact, I support stronger lines to prevent political interference with staff, and a public process against officials who cross those lines. A more politicized Ferguson will destroy any possibility of recovery.

11. Should the council seek to have personal and real property taxes paid by residents and businesses as already stated in city ordinances? Why, or why not? Also, when should the council approve tax abatement?

I absolutely support a requirement that property taxes be paid on commercial properties as a condition of granting and renewing business licenses. In fact, this has been required for liquor licenses for decades, but the city has ignored that law. We also require it for renewing landlord licenses – if taxes are not paid, a landlord can’t get any “new customers.” Yet businesses can continue to operate without paying taxes, right up to the day they lose the property in the tax sale.

12. What kind of role should the council take to deter juvenile crime?

On the positive side, council can provide for and publicize activities through our parks department, mentorship programs, and even civic involvement for youth. That helps the kids who may be on the edge, but want to do the right things in life.

The greater issue today is that we are not enforcing laws against juvenile subjects. Because of the “point system” we don’t bother prosecuting juveniles, even in some pretty serious circumstances. That’s because our police department has misinterpreted this system. That is something which I’m working to rectify right now.

13. Large scale development has been slowing down in Ferguson over the last few years. Why do you think that is and what ideas do you have to encourage more robust development in the commercial corridors?

Development has slowed down because the city has failed at multiple levels. First, until recently, the city employee who was supposed to be facilitating development was a complete failure. He is gone, and Rachel St. Pierre is doing a much better job. We also have a zoning code which has frozen development on the south end of South Florissant by insisting that anything new must look like the Delmar Loop. And the complete lack of code enforcement against certain properties in the Florissant Road business district makes it unattractive to prospective businesses.

West Florissant has been overlooked entirely, and is a mixture of tax exempt developments, dilapidated strip malls, package liquor stores, and long vacant commercial buildings. With the upcoming revamp of West Florissant, the city has a one time opportunity to improve this stretch, if we are ready.

14. Has any candidate, during this or any past local election cycle, accepted single donations of $10k or more from out of state entities that own apartment complexes in Ferguson and, if so, why?

This question was obviously targeted at me. And the funny thing is, because they asked the wrong question, the simple answer from me is no. I have never received a single donation of $10,000 from anybody, and Missouri law prohibits campaign contributions from corporations. But in fact, two of the individuals who were partners in the company which used to own Pleasant View Gardens did contribute $5,000 each to my mayoral campaign, and I’m proud to tell you why that happened.

One evening in the summer of 2022, I got a phone call from an attorney who I knew socially. He said, “I heard you are ‘something’ in Ferguson, and I have a client who could use your help. Can I give them your number?” I’m always willing to help, so I immediately agreed. A few days later, I got a call from Jeff Juster and Joe Novoseller, partners in the ownership of that apartment complex.

They told me they were having difficulty getting things accomplished with the city. They put in applications for permits, and never got a response. They requested inspections of apartment units, which they were told to submit by email, and it took weeks to get a response to schedule an inspection, which could be weeks further from when they got a response. They had a business to run, and the city was one impediment to their success.

At the time, they had paid a former council member to lobby the city on their behalf. She cashed the check, and accomplished nothing. I told them “I will not represent you, nor will I ask the city to bend the rules on your behalf. But I will be happy to see what the problem is, and make sure they are doing their job in a timely manner. And because I am not representing you, you’re not going to pay me for this.” Just like I’ve helped countless Ferguson residents who were having problems with city hall, I stepped forward to help them.

I met with our former city manager, Eric Osterberg, to discuss these issues. Osterberg agreed that the service problems needed to be fixed, and he was able to handle that. But he also expressed frustration that there was a collapsed building entrance that had been damaged by a car, that should have been fixed a long time ago and had not. There were also other code violations which the apartment complex had failed to address.

After this meeting, I again spoke with the apartment owners, and conveyed to them that the entrance needed to be repaired immediately, and that other code issues needed to be addressed. They promptly found a contractor and got the entrance fixed, and made a great deal of progress on many other items. They had a long way to go, and in the end, they sold the property. But my personal involvement in this situation had an immediate effect of turning them toward making needed improvements in a long neglected apartment complex.

Months later, when I decided to run for mayor, I asked them to contribute to my campaign. I was expecting a few hundred bucks as a token of gratitude for helping them. I never dreamed they would be so generous. They knew that I’m a straight shooter, that I believe in fairly enforcing the rules, and that customer service at city hall is a top priority for me. I had also made a suggestion, which I stand by today, that the city needed to take measures to prioritize the handling of matters pertaining to the apartment complexes which house a substantial part of our city. As mayor, I would have held a monthly meeting with the owners of large apartment complexes, including the city manager and director of public works, to ensure ongoing communication. And I would have asked the city manager to have a building inspector do a weekly “slow ride” through every apartment complex to make sure things are being kept up. These measures would increase the quality of life for apartment residents, reduce the amount of negative attention we have to give them when bad things happen, and would also increase the value of the large investments they have made here.

15. What are the main points you want voters to remember about you and your candidacy?

I’ve spent many hours in recent years helping residents deal with issues in our city. I don’t do a Facebook post every time I do that, because the heavy lifting is done by people at city hall. I am a problem solver by nature, and that is one important quality we want in a council member.

I’m also a transparency fanatic. It’s not by accident that I started The Ferguson Observer, the only publication that focuses on public affairs and city hall. I also started I Care About Ferguson, the most active Facebook group in our community. Ironically, the people who are criticizing my candidacy are doing so in the group which I created for their benefit.

Perhaps most important, I am a strong believer in collaboration. I don’t take credit for other people’s work, and I don’t have to be the one to initiate every single idea. That is why I volunteered for the signature gathering efforts of candidates in wards 1 and 3, before I’d even collected my own signatures. It’s why I have frequent conversations with many members of council on the important issues our city faces.

This April, we have a chance to elect a council majority that will work together in a way that hasn’t happened here in years. That will benefit every Ferguson resident. Last April, a majority of ward 2 residents voted for me in the mayoral election. I’m asking for your vote one more time. Let’s move forward together, for a better Ferguson.

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