Vanita Gupta, head of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, had a terse response to the Ferguson City Council’s vote on February 9 to amend the consent decree it had negotiated with the DOJ.
“The Ferguson City Council has attempted to unilaterally amend the negotiated agreement. Their vote to do so creates an unnecessary delay in the essential work to bring constitutional policing to the city, and marks an unfortunate outcome for concerned community members and Ferguson police officers,” Gupta said in a statement.
She then threatened litigation: “The Department of Justice will take the necessary legal actions to ensure that Ferguson’s policing and court practices comply with the Constitution and relevant federal laws.”
Those unilateral amendments passed by the council are:
• no mandate for the payment of additional salary to police department or other city employees;
• no mandate for staffing in the Ferguson Jail;
• extended deadlines
• terms of the agreement shall not apply to other governmental entities or agencies that take over services or operations currently provided by the City of Ferguson;
• local preference in contracting with consultants, contractors and third parties providing services under the agreement;
• project goals for minority and women participation in consulting, oversight and third party services;
• and monitoring fee caps changed to $1 million over the first five years with no more than $250,000 in any single year.
The City Council brashly stated in a release, “The Department of Justice must accept the seven amendments in order for the settlement agreement to be valid.”
The council quickly passed these amendments – which had been prepared in advance, complete with a press release – after the third of three listening sessions where members of the public commented on the consent decree to the council.
Ferguson Councilman Wesley Bell, an attorney who helped to negotiate the decree, proposed the conditions that the council adopted unanimously. Bell suggested his amendments were necessary for Ferguson to survive the enforcement of the consent decree as a functioning municipality.
Ferguson officials estimated a wide range for the cost of implementing the decree – from $2.1 million to $3.7 million in the first year, then roughly $1.8 million to $3 million after that. The consent decree is for five years, with provisions for that term to be abbreviated or extended.
The amendment stating that another entity that takes over services currently provided by the City of Ferguson would not have to honor the consent decree clearly offers an easy out for the city. If this amendment is accepted, Ferguson could contract with another police department and escape all of the mandated training and supervision spelled out in the consent decree.
Bell is a seasoned operator in municipal politics. He serves as prosecutor in Riverview, judge in Velda City and city attorney in Wellston. He was central to Wellston contracting for police services with the newly formed North County Police Cooperative, which is unaccredited.
Angelique Kidd, 43, Ferguson resident for over 12 years, said she felt angry and cheated by the council for not voting on the consent decree as negotiated.
“Instead of having the guts to vote ‘no’ on the consent decree and go back into negotiations., they vote ‘yes’ but with amendments,” Kidd said.
“Well, does the Department of Justice agree with those amendments? Why do us Ferguson residents, Ferguson taxpayers, pay all of these lawyers all of this money, over all of these months, to come up with a negotiated consent decree, only to have you at the very last minute, say, ‘Oh, yeah, we’re totally going to change it. That makes no sense.”
In other business at the council meeting, Laverne Mitchom was unanimously voted to succeed the late Brian Fletcher as Ward 2 council member.
“Racism, oppression and violation of others’ human and civil rights will only continue to make this country a chaotic, hypocritical nation,” Mitchom wrote in an opinion column in The American last April.
“How can the United States of America continue to preach democracy and human rights around the world when the human and civil rights of our own people are being violated here?”