(Story was updated on Feb. 27 with Ferguson Mayor James Knowles’ response, which was sent after the newspaper went to press on Feb. 26.)
If the “prevalent” rumors are true, Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III’s plan to become the permanent city manager are right on track.
Knowles’ term as mayor ends in April, and he’s term-limited. He can’t apply for city employment until a year after he’s out of office, according to the City Charter.
On February 25, Ferguson City Council members voted 5-2 to approve extending interim City Manager Jeff Blume’s contract and to start the search for a permanent city manager in May 2021. That’s the exact month Knowles would be eligible for the position.
When Knowles announced the resolution at the council meeting, residents jumped to their feet in opposition. Resident Mildred Clines was at the front of the frustrated crowd, trying to get the council members’ attention through the podium microphone.
“You’re not going to kick us in our teeth like this,” Clines said. “You’re going to hear what we have to say. The community does not want this.”
Residents have called Blume “the architect of the black body ATM” because the U.S. Department of Justice (D.O.J.) found in 2016 that he orchestrated the city’s push to increase municipal and traffic tickets for more city revenue. Blume’s actions are why the city had to enter into a consent decree with the DOJ, residents decried.
Blume’s interim contract was set to expire on March 1. Now he’s set to be the interim city manager for more than two years.
Councilwoman Ella Jones said having an interim manager leading the city for this length of time is “unhealthy.” At the meeting, Jones offered an alternative resolution: to let Blume’s contract expire and have him work month-to-month while they search for a permanent city manager. However, Councilwoman Heather Robinett said that the city has made progress with the consent decree under Blume, and they should keep him in the position.
Jones and Robinett will vie for mayor in April – and Robinett is Knowles’ handpicked successor.
Jones’ motion was not entertained, and Knowles carried on with the meeting’s business over chants, “No, no! Jeffrey Blume has got to go!”
Knowles ordered the police to have the people removed, but the police only contained the situation and did not remove anyone.
Clines even pointed at Blume and said, “You’re looking at us, and you’re laughing at the black people. Looking at the smirk on your face: ‘I’m screwing them, and I’m getting away with it.’ We’re telling you we are not accepting this, and we’re not going to go quietly.”
Knowles finally moved to adjourn the meeting without hearing public comment — which is normally heard at the beginning of the meeting. The council recently moved public comment to the end, and residents believe it’s to discourage public input because they often have to wait through hours of city business to speak.
Officer Ira Walker defuses situation
After the council members left the room, one white officer attempted to physically remove an African-American man. There was a tussle, and several women residents adamantly opposed the police touching the man. The man was finally put outside and was about to get arrested. However, Officer Ira Walker put a stop to it.
“One really good cop deactivated the situation,” said Ferguson resident and protestor Tony Rice, who was livestreaming the meeting, “and just said there will be no arrest made and everybody just kind of talked it out.”
Jones said that Officer Walker is a “good person” and Ferguson has many great police officers.
“When you get a situation like that where people are emotional and passionate, the police officers should be trained enough to identify that and not escalate,” Jones said. “He did a great job.”
‘Behind every rumor’ in Ferguson
Former Ferguson Police Chief Delrish Moss confirmed that the rumors were prevalent while he was working in Ferguson.
“I had long heard rumors that the mayor [Knowles] hopes to be city manager once he leaves office,” Moss told the American. “And while I don’t know it to be a fact, 36 years in municipal government has taught me that behind every rumor is at least a hint of truth.”
Councilwoman EllaJones said that although she hasn’t heard Knowles announce these plans, the timeline is undeniable. “Why would a person not assume that?” Jones said.
In an email to the American on Feb. 27, Knowles said, “I cannot speak to the silly conspiracy theories that exist out there. I can tell you definitively that I have a job, an excellent one, and I’m not interested in the position of City Manager of Ferguson.”
Councilwoman Francesca Griffin voted against the extension of Blume’s contract, largely because of the community’s concern with his background.
In a complaint filed against the City of Ferguson on February 10, 2016, the D.O.J. 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.”
“The willingness of the rest of the council to keep him in that position is a slap in the face to the people who were most impacted by the system that Blume created,” Griffin said.
Last month, she motioned to open up the search process for a city manager, but no one seconded it and she doesn’t understand why, she said. However, Griffin has also heard the rumor that Knowles is using his allies and handpicked people on the council — council members Robinett, Linda Lipka, J. Toni Burrow and Byron Fry — to help him pave a path for him to become city manager in 2021.
Knowles ally Fry is another story. A year ago, the council appointed him to fill the 3rd Ward seat on the City Council left vacant by Wesley Bell when was elected St. Louis County prosecutor. Many community members opposed the appointment of Fry, who is black, based on Facebook posts he wrote days after Michael Brown was shot and killed about wanting to run protestors over and shoot them if they came on his lawn during the Ferguson unrest in 2014.
Fry posted, “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.”
There was recently a presentation for the re-branding of the city of Ferguson, Griffin said.
“One of the words was ‘respect,’” she said. “I just feel like there is very little of that when it comes to the concerns of the community. Last night was a clear example of that. It was the complete opposite of respect in a city where we have over 70 percent black population.”
St. Louis County Police promotions
The names of four African-American St. Louis County police officers were removed from a list of promotions for sergeant, according to documents obtained by the St. Louis American.
On February 11, the commander of the Personnel Services Unit sent out an inter-office memorandum that listed 33 officers as being eligible to go to the next phase of the promotional process — an oral interview. Four African-American officers were on the list.
However, on February 14, the commander, Lt. Jack Webb, sent out an “amended notice,” listing only 24 names. None of them were African-American.
In his explanation, Webb stated that “upon closer examination” of the department’s Promotional Policy, “at least three candidates must be considered to have passed the test for every projected opening at the time the promotion process is announced.”
The number of original projected openings was eight, he stated. By this explanation, 24 names would only be the bare minimum.
The Ethical Society of Police, a police association for city and county officers who advocate for diversity and equity, tweeted about the promotion list’s downsizing on the morning of February 20.
ESOP claimed the downsizing was done at the “urging” of the bargaining police union for the county, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Lodge 111. ESOP also called on the department’s new Diversity and Inclusion Unit (DIU) to make a public statement on “how awful this is.”
“The FOP and DIU claim to be for fairness for ALL officers,” according to the tweet. “Will the FOP and DIU do anything to address this?”
Nine people in total were dropped from the list, and four of them were African American.
“They have done harm to nine people,” said Heather Taylor, president of ESOP. “This process didn’t lend to equality. It was a terrible process. They did not handle it professionally.”
Matt Crecelius, the business manager for the FOP, said that the police officers themselves sent emails and text messages to police department leaders flagging a violation of the promotional policy. Crecelius said that early in January, the department announced the promotional process, asking officers to turn in their forms. At that time, the police chief was required to announce the number of openings, which was stated as eight.
Crecelius said that 72 officers took the written test. The promotional policy states that, “Any candidate who scores in the 70 percentile or higher on the written test will be placed on the list for oral boards.” Crecelius said that this is the 70 percentile of their peers, not on the test itself, and that would limit the list to 24 candidates.
“I feel horrible they got taken off the list,” he said in response to the African-American officers. “But this is a competitive process.”
He said it was unfair to the 24 candidates to expand the number of openings to 11 after the announcement, flooding the list to 33 candidates. And it was not done to exclude black police officers, he said.
“As ESOP is aware, our association has zero decision making authority in this matter,” according to an FOP statement. “That authority rests solely with the Board of Police Commissioners and the Department. This matter was brought to the Police Board and it was determined that the policy had been violated.”
The American reached out to the St. Louis County Police Department, and a spokesman said, “The number of expected openings at the rank of sergeant increased early in the promotional process. While that presented an opportunity to expand the field of candidates, the amount of participants in the process must align with the Department’s policy.”
In regards to the ESOP’s concern about lack of diversity in the promotions list, the department spokesman said, “The participants were determined solely by test scores with no other factor involved.”
The American also reached out to the chair Police Board of Commissioners and is awaiting a response. The American also reached out to the County Executive Sam Page’s staff about the issue, and a spokesman said they are looking into the issue.