The Ferguson Voters’ Guide to Campaign Finances and Ethics

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The following guest editorial comes from our neighbor, Sara Holmes, whom we hope will have her own byline very soon.

[Disclosure notice: as publicly found in campaign filings, the author has donated to two campaigns (Toni Burrow and Stephen Garrett) and the Editor of the Observer, Nicholas Kasoff is serving as Deputy Treasurer for Stephen Garrett. That said, this article provides facts that are public information, and each voter is encouraged to be fully informed and make their own decisions on relevance in determining their own vote.]

Campaign misconduct, campaign finance problems, and reporting errors are things that fly under the radar in local elections far more commonly that people think. It is a fallacy that the Board of Elections checks for finance problems or reporting mistakes. These are only considered if a citizen complaint is made by someone who took the time to read, examine, and check reporting. Filings of the Missouri Ethics Commission (MEC) are great resources, and background checks such as Case.net and bankruptcy filings are important too.  Public information is ruled such for good reason, and you have a right to know about the background of those who may be handling city budget decisions if elected.

Every corrupt, abusive, or poorly performing elected official made it to office because he or she was voted into office. Savvy voters know that there are several resources easily available online in addition to the candidates’ own campaign literature, social media, and websites in which to weigh how best to avoid problems once an individual elected, as well as how to simply vote for the best possible candidate when faced with multiple good candidates. Different people will give weight to factors differently. You can see in my guest editorial my own opinion of those who bring partisanship to our non-partisan council. Other concerns may include the use of money from PACs (which may also be partisan) or the dependence on donations from non-residents of Ferguson (perhaps a surprising number from out of state in some cases).

Whatever your decision, I hope you take consideration of all candidates and go vote for your own choice for your own ward. The below information includes Missouri Ethics Commission Reports for reports up through the 8 Days Before Election reports.

Ward One

Stephen Garrett filed on 2/25/21 with his “Garrett for a Flourishing Ferguson” committee organization as a non-partisan candidate. He has both a treasurer and deputy treasurer who are Ferguson residents. Garrett was appointed to the Ward One council seat left vacant after the mayoral election last year. He has stood out in discussions on the city’s branding, the work on which figured in highly in the decision by Burlington Coat Factory to bring a location to Ferguson. His overall donations are $3797.14. He has received donations of 18 Ferguson residents for a total of $2797.14 (including $500 from himself) and received the endorsement with $1000 donation from Fire Fighters of North County PAC. His Facebook page is here. His website is https://www.flourishingferguson.com

Phedra Nelson filed on 11/29/20 with her “Citizens to Elect Phedra Nelson” as a Democratic candidate despite the non-partisan election. She has a treasurer who is also a Ferguson resident. Nelson has a slew of non-resident Democratic officials who have endorsed her. There is one concern regarding Nelson’s candidacy that is no longer found online—her non-profit employer had to insist that their facility and grounds not be used for her campaign efforts. She has since removed two videos (one even showing her campaign sign inside her office) and other images from online access, though residents may have received a mailer misusing a facility owned by this 501c3 that is now trying to protect its non-political and non-partisan status. Overall, Nelson has received $4205 in donations, of this $875 of came from four Ferguson residents and an additional $3130 from 17 individuals, including several out of state. An additional $200 came from the North County Labor Legislature Club, a Political Action Committee (PAC). Her Facebook page is here.

Ward Two

Erica M. Brooks filed her committee “Friends of Erica Brooks” on 12/7/20 and serves as her own treasurer. Although initially filing as a Democrat in her committee organization statement and reports, the recent 8 Days Before Election report states she is a non-partisan. Brooks advocated to keep the Metro bus line in Old Ferguson West. Brooks has received $1949.95 in donations: $500 came from one Ferguson resident; $275 from Brooks herself, $974.95 from eleven non-residents. She also has a personal loan of 1718.37 from her own personal funds. Her Facebook page is here.

J. Toni Burrowfiled her committee “Citizens for J. Toni Burrow” on 2/4/21 as a non-partisan candidate. She has a treasurer who is also a Ferguson resident. Burrow is the incumbent and has been notable for pushing through the start of developing Standard Operating Procedures to provide consistent city services and responses for all residents. She has had a total of $3376 donated, of which $2676 came from ten Ferguson residents, and $700 from two non-residents. She also has a $2000 loan from her personal private funds. Her Facebook page is here.

Arbie E. Peterson filed his committee statement for “Citizens to Elect Arbie E. Peterson” on 10/28/20 for the position of Committeeman/St. Louis County and by checking the blank for party without filling in the blank space. All his finance reports have stated the same. His treasurer is also a Ferguson resident. He is a pastor at a non-denominational church. Peterson declared bankruptcy in 2010 and showed two mortgages, two car loans, and a personal loan secured by his residence. His residence was purchased in 2004 for $105,800 in 2004 and his 2010 bankruptcy stated a balance of $139,100 (an increase of 33,300 debt within 6 years of receiving a mortgage). Furthering concerns about his ability to handle finances is the fact that his Facebook page stated on March 27th that a $2000 goal had been reached, but his finance report of March 28th states a total of $1766.27 on hand. Of this claimed amount, only $100 donation from Arbie Peterson to his own campaign, a $200 donation from a Florissant resident, and a $469.47 loan are disclosed. If the total of $1766.27 is correct, $996.80 of money declared has no source disclosed. Citizens to Elect Arbie E. Peterson was contacted and received a message concerning campaign but has not chosen to respond to explain the obvious discrepancies in his reporting. His campaign literature and a video interview posted on his Facebook with the Christian Business Connection both contain appeals for campaign donations, including by Cash app, that are strikingly aggressive in comparison to all other candidates. His Facebook page is here.

Ward 3

Latasha M. Brown filed her committee “Citizens for Latasha M. Brown” on 2/8/21 as a non-partisan candidate. She is serving as her own treasurer. She has received $1125 in donations, $700 of which has come from two Ferguson resident. The remaining balance of $425 from non-residents within Missouri. Brown is a resident of the Canfield Apartments and active in the Southeast Ferguson Neighborhood Association. Her Facebook page is here.

Naquittia Noah filed her “Committee to Elect Naquittia Noah” on 10/28/20 as a non-partisan candidate. She has a treasurer who lives in University City. She currently serves on the Parks and Recreation Board. She has received $2134 in donations overall. $20 of that has come from one Ferguson resident and $914 has come from non-residents. She has received money from two PACs, $1000 from the CHIPP Political Account and $200 from North County Labor Legislature Club. She has made loans of 2966.97 from her personal private funds. Her Facebook page is here.

Mike Palmer filed his committee “Mike Palmer for Ward 3” on 3/1/21 as a non-partisan candidate. He is serving as his own treasurer. A late entrant, Palmer is a write-in candidate who fulfilled local and state requirements to run his campaign after the city filing deadline. He has been involved in the past and currently with various city committees and has redeveloped commercial and residential property within the city. He has received $350 dollars in contributions from two Ferguson residents and received an endorsement with $1000 donation from Fire Fighters of North County PAC. He has also declared using a $4000 loan from his private funds for his campaign. His Facebook page is here. His website is https://palmerforward3.org/