By Rosaland Tyler
New Journal and Guide
Daily life continues to change in this city of about 21,000 that made headlines in 2014 after Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager was fatally shot by a white police officer. One change is the recent resignation of Ferguson Prosecutor Stephanie Karr on May 25. But Karr’s recent resignation comes on the heels of other changes. Karr, who gained a reputation for (unsuccessfully) crusading in court against protestors that were arrested here, also blocked the seating of newly elected city councilwoman Laverne Mitchom in February. But the ACLU wrote a letter to Karr threatening to send a court order if she did not comply with the city charter.
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Karr and lawyers from her firm, who are also employed by the city of Ferguson, were paid more than $40,000 this year in prosecutor fees. Karr will continue to serve as prosecutor until the position is filled. Ferguson will hire a new person for each of Karr’s positions (city attorney and prosecutor). Another change occurred in February. Blacks held the majority on city council for the first time. After the swearing-in of Laverne Mitchom, the racial makeup of the city council reflected the city’s population. Members of city council also nominated Mitchom, a retired 65-year-old educator, to replace white council member and former Mayor Bryan Fletcher, who died at home in January at age 56.
“I was excited — for the first time, there was a majority of African Americans on the council,” Mitchom told The L.A. Times. However, she added, “At the end of the day, white, black, whatever — we’re going to be here in Ferguson together…. We’ve got to do what’s best for all of us.” Before Fletcher’s death, the council had been half-white and half-black. Two black council members were elected last April in the first municipal election following the protests and arsons that scarred the city in 2014.
Clearly change is underway. But it comes with a high price tag. To implement the recommended changes that were listed in a recent Department of Justice report, Ferguson residents will have to spend a little over $1 million in the first year, about $700,000 in the second year and $600,000 in year three, according to news reports. Those estimates don’t include technical assistance and grant money Ferguson could receive for its efforts, City Manager De’Carlon Seewood said in recent news reports. By contrast, the costs of fighting the federal government in court could have been substantially higher.
Here is another recent change. According to the city’s website, an ordinance on April 19 established civilian oversight of the Ferguson Police Department. In early April, Delrish Moss, 51, of Miami, was named the city’s next police chief after the city had screened 54 applicants from around the country. The Ferguson Civilian Review Board will have nine members, two residents from each ward and three at-large members who may be residents or non-residents. Six training and recruiting sessions are scheduled for board members. “It is important that the Ferguson Civilian Review Board reflects the diversity of the City and residents are encouraged to attend an educational session and apply to be a member of the board,” the city’s website noted.