Ferguson resident Felicia Pulliam approached the microphone at the January 14 Ferguson City Council meeting, and she began her public comment with just two words: Jeffrey Blume.
The audience — a packed house — quietly laughed. But it was a sad laugh, like the joke about their interim city manager, Jeffrey Blume, was on them.
“So I know everyone is confused about the little charade that Jeffrey Blume and Mayor Knowles — who we now know was his co-conspirator — pulled at the D.O.J. status hearing,” said Pulliam, who was a Ferguson Commission member. “I’m here to explain to you what that little show was all about.”
Pulliam’s explanation was one part of an incredible four-part takedown by women residents. Here’s some background.
Earlier in January, Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III and Interim City Manager Jeffrey Blume had a status hearing with a federal judge about the consent decree. The City of Ferguson went kicking and screaming into the consent decree agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice in March 2016, after the D.O.J. concluded that the city was misusing the police and courts to increase city revenue. At the recent hearing to talk about the city’s progress, Blume explained to the judge that Ferguson “could face eventual dissolution unless serious financial threats can be resolved,” according to the Associated Press.
After the hearing, Knowles told an AP reporter that the cost of the consent decree has forced Ferguson to cut back in nearly every area other than policing. Knowles also said dissolution should eventually be on the table if the city can’t afford even basic services like snow removal, pothole repair and maintaining parks, according to the AP report.
“When you get to that level, you have to ask: Why exist?” Knowles told the AP.
Blume told the reporter that the Census is concerning because Ferguson’s population is declining. The town had about 29,000 residents in the mid-1970s, and now has about 21,000. If the 2020 Census shows a 5 percent population loss, Blume told the reporter, Ferguson would lose nearly $400,000 in federal money. He also said that two class-action lawsuits, both citing the same issues raised by the consent agreement, could cost the city more than $10 million if Ferguson loses. And the city’s insurance would not cover the loss.
The AP article incited worry and anger from Ferguson residents. So before the January 14 meeting began, Knowles addressed the article, saying that it was “blown out of proportion” by the reporter and the headline writer. He claimed that the lawsuits and Census were concerns, but that the city had financial reserves.
However, Knowles’ comments seemed to offer little reassurance to the audience. One woman questioned Knowles’ claim to the press that the police department’s budget has not been cut, even though the number of officers has gone from 56 to 45.
“It’s a cut,” she said. “The mayor made a false statement. He lied.”
Women vs. Blume
Back to the Blume takedown during the City Council meeting.
First, resident Cassandra Butler got up. She pointed out that it’s been almost a year since Blume was appointed interim city manager — despite the council’s promise a year ago to find a permanent replacement quickly. 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.
Butler said that an interim city manager has made several important hires. And though they are supposed to be making changes for the consent decree, Blume has “essentially become a supervisor of his former work.”
Resident Mildred Clines then got up and explained what that former work was. She dedicated the three minutes that she was allowed to reading from the D.O.J.’s findings on Blume — though Knowles attempted to stop her. 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.”
“Mr. Blume, you are not the person to lead this city,” Clines said. “Any City Council members who support him becoming the permanent city manager, we’re going to look at you. And we’re going to judge you.”
That’s when Pulliam approached the podium and told the audience what was really happening at the status hearing.
“What Blume and Knowles were trying to do was to whine to the judge, make her feel like the city was impossibly burdened and did not have the financial capability nor the human capability to implement the D.O.J. consent decree,” Pulliam said. “We are in year four.”
The Ferguson Collaborative, a group that works with the city and consent decree monitor, has identified 40-plus pages of items that have not yet been completed, she said.
“Ms. Mildred just told us that (Blume) is the architect of the black body ATM,” Pulliam said. “The D.O.J. came in here, the citizens of this region came in and shut down your black body ATM. You cannot fill any more budget deficits that you have known about — the structural deficit that you cured by harassing, threatening, harming, destroying the lives of black and brown people. Guess what? It ain’t going to happen. You can keep on whining. And how much money do you have to spend? I hope you spend every penny that you stole out of children’s mouths, shoes off their feet, car payments, rent. I hope you spend every dime of it and do not benefit from the unconstitutional policing that you have practiced against the people.”
Then resident Emily Davis stepped up to the microphone and connected the dots. Despite Blume being mentioned in the D.O.J.’s investigation more than 10 times for abuses, she said Knowles still promoted him to interim city manager.
“After the investigation, Blume repeatedly ramped up the scare tactics, just as he’s doing now with the dissolution talk,” Davis said, “by jacking up the potential cost estimates outrageously every time he was asked, in an attempt to keep the city from signing the agreement with the federal government.”
Because of these estimates, the City Council didn’t sign it, she said, then got sued by the federal government, and finally voted again to sign it.
“From that moment on, the City of Ferguson has drug its collective feet to keep from implementing the measures required by the decree,” Davis said.
The decree expires when the city fulfills its obligations and maintains them for two years. Dragging their feet has simply drug out the costs of implementation, she said.
“Jeffrey Blume as finance director got us into this mess; Jeffrey Blume as city manager isn’t going to get us out of it,” Davis said. “It’s time to open up applications for a permanent city manager and finally move forward before Blume burns it down and walks away from the ashes with his retirement package intact.”
Note from the monitor
The independent monitor for the consent decree, Natashia Tidwell, will host a community event 6-7 p.m. Wednesday, February 12 at the Ferguson Community Center, Room 3, 1050 Smith Ave. This event will provide an opportunity for people to hear about the Winter 2020 Status Report and Year Four Workplan, which were filed with the court on January 31, and will serve as an introduction to the Monitoring Team’s newest subject matter expert, Leigh R. Anderson.