Councilman: Federal reform plan could bankrupt Ferguson

AP News
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Posted: Aug 06, 2015 12:20 PM

FERGUSON, Mo. (AP) — As the anniversary of Michael Brown's death nears, a Ferguson city councilman says the U.S. Justice Department's proposal to reform policing and municipal courts in Ferguson could bankrupt the St. Louis suburb.

Councilman Brian Fletcher didn't say exactly what parts of the plan he and others on the council find unacceptable. But Fletcher, a former Ferguson mayor, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (http://bit.ly/1K4UJv5 ) that the council unanimously agreed to request more time from the federal government to find an alternative that won't "financially ruin the city."

Sunday marks a year since Brown, an unarmed, black 18-year-old, was shot and killed by Darren Wilson, a white police officer who was later cleared by both a local grand jury and the DOJ. But a separate Justice Department investigation of Ferguson's justice system found evidence of a profit-driven court system and widespread racial bias by police.

Since Brown's death and the racial unrest that followed, sales tax revenue and fines and fees collected in the predominantly black suburb have declined. Ferguson also has had to pay out large severances to its former police chief and city manager, who both resigned in March after the DOJ report was released.

Ferguson Councilman Wesley Bell described the Justice Department's plan as a typical bargaining tactic.

"The DOJ didn't expect us to accept their first proposal. This is just part of the negotiations," said Bell, elected to the council in April. "That's all. You want $200. You ask for $400."

Mayor James Knowles III told the newspaper that bargaining continues and no vote has been taken on the proposal. He also said no council member was authorized to speak on behalf of the city.

Messages left Thursday by The Associated Press for Fletcher, Bell and Knowles were not immediately returned.

Bell said Wednesday the city had acted in good faith since the DOJ report was published, noting that Ferguson already has hired a new municipal court judge and interim police chief Andre Anderson. Both are black.

"My approach is that we are not negotiating against the DOJ," he said. "We are negotiating with. Because we all want the same thing."

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Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com