The Ferguson City Council and Mayor James Knowles III have made several moves this year that have community members worried.
To fill St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell’s now-empty 3rd Ward seat on the City Council, the council members appointed an African-American man who wrote Facebook posts about wanting to run protestors over and shoot them if they came on his lawn during the Ferguson unrest in 2014.
And to step in for the resigning city manager, the mayor appointed the city’s longtime financial director who was cited by the U.S. Department of Justice multiple times for urging police to issue more citations to generate more revenue for the city.
“It’s a nasty storm brewing, between the city manager selection and the questionable position of the council person for the 3rd Ward,” said Jackie Lewis-Harris, an active Ferguson community member. “It’s sad because the mayor is intent on putting things back to the way things were when Mike Brown was killed.”
The St. Louis American reached out to the city spokesperson for comment but had not received a response by press time.
On January 29, the City Council voted to appoint Byron Fry, a health teacher at Riverview Gardens High School, to fill the council spot left vacant by Bell when he was elected county prosecutor. The day Fry took his oath for office on February 12, community members showed the council posts that Fry wrote on Facebook days after Michael Brown was shot and killed by then-Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in 2014.
Fry stated, “I do not give a damn about protestors right (now) who do not live in Ferguson!!!! I want to go bust some skulls so right now, I can taste their blood.”
Fry repeatedly posted that he did not believe the people protesting in front of the Ferguson Police Department or on West Florissant Avenue were from the area and that they were destroying his city.
“I posted several comments about the ‘Ferguson Riots’ to my friends on my personal pages who were asking me about what was happening during the mayhem that put Ferguson at the forefront of a catastrophe,” Fry stated to The American.
“I vented to my friends my personal concerns and disappointment. What I noticed was the community that I live in and love was being torn apart. Ferguson was being held hostage and terrorized in its own neighborhoods and our homes and community had been hijacked by media hoggers.”
Fry joined Riverview Gardens School District in 2016, and Brown was killed within the district’s geographic footprint. The district chose not to comment on Fry’s 2014 posts.
“It’s very inappropriate,” said LaTasha Brown, who helped establish the Southeast Ferguson Community Association with other community members after the unrest and is now the group’s president. “If you want to taste the blood of a protestor, you need not to be a city councilperson.”
Fry also owes two years of real estate taxes for 2017 and 2018, totaling $2,134. Community members allege that Fry knew this when he signed the Declaration of Candidacy form on January 24, stating that he did not owe taxes.
City Attorney Apollo Carey said that he “did not have a comment right now” about Fry’s potential perjury on the declaration. Fry was not available to comment on his delinquent taxes.
“If you start off lying, you are going to end up with a lie,” LaTasha Brown said. “He needs to resign, not only because it would be the right thing to do but it would show that he does care about this community.”
Community members also said Fry has not been as involved in the community as the other three candidates who applied for Bell’s post. However, Fry’s opposition to the Ferguson protests aligns more closely with the mayor’s and majority of the council members, they said. Three out of five council members voted to appoint Fry.
Jeffrey Blume’s ‘revenue pipeline’
At the February 12 meeting, the council passed a resolution for the mayor to appoint former finance director Jeffrey Blume as the interim city manager. Blume, who became finance director in 2008 and held the position during the Ferguson unrest, was cited multiple times by the Department of Justice (DOJ) in legal documents.
In a complaint filed against the City of Ferguson on February 10, 2016, the DOJ cited several emails written from Blume to then-police chief Thomas Jackson. One stated that “unless ticket writing ramps up significantly before the end of the year, it will be hard to significantly raise collections next year.” In another email, Blume recommended an “I-270 traffic enforcement initiative” in order to “begin to fill the revenue pipeline.”
His email attached a computation of the net revenues that would be generated by the initiative, which required paying five officers overtime for highway traffic enforcement for a four-hour shift.
“There is no indication that anyone considered whether community policing and public safety would be better served by devoting five overtime officers to neighborhood policing instead of a ‘revenue pipeline’ of highway traffic enforcement,” the DOJ stated in the complaint.
“Rather, the only downsides to the program that city officials appear to have considered are that ‘this initiative requires 60 to 90 [days] of lead time to turn citations into cash’ and that Missouri law then capped the proportion of revenue that can come from municipal fines at 30 percent, which limited the extent to which the program could be used.”
At the February 12 council meeting, Councilwoman Ella Jones read these excerpts and asked the city attorney about the potential for lawsuits in appointing Blume because of his past actions. The livestream for the meeting is not available on the city’s website, and Carey was not available for comment.
Jones said people were not satisfied with his answer.
“I’m concerned about the trust factor,” Jones said. “We are making strides to go forward, however the appointment of the interim city manager – I’m concerned how that is going to affect the community.”