ST. LOUIS (AP) — The Ferguson City Council is expected to reconsider approving a deal to overhaul the city's police and court systems, a move that could help the St. Louis suburb end a costly lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Tuesday night, about a month after the council rejected the reform agreement with the DOJ, the panel is expected to take up a measure approving it, Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III said. A second reading making the agreement final could come at the council's March 22 meeting.
The DOJ sued Ferguson a day after the council rejected the settlement. City council members were concerned Ferguson might go bankrupt trying to implement changes outlined in the agreement, which stemmed from a scathing DOJ review of city operations that included allegations of routine civil rights violations against black residents. The investigation followed the fatal police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, whose death helped spark the Black Lives Matter movement.
The decision to reconsider the agreement comes after the head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, Vanita Gupta, wrote to Knowles and the council on Friday, assuring them that the agreement will not create an unmanageable financial burden.
Gupta, in the letter, clarified financial details of the plan — including that the city wouldn't be required to provide pay raises to its police officers, a provision that could have cost nearly $1 million. Gupta also said Ferguson could avoid litigation by signing the original agreement and notes the possibility of technical assistance and grant money for the city.
"We feel like we're going to be in that cost range that we can afford," Knowles told The Associated Press. "We now have in writing from the DOJ that they will take very seriously these cost issues with us."
The DOJ declined to comment.
The agency began investigating Ferguson amid the fallout after Brown, who was black and unarmed, was fatally shot by a white city police officer in August 2014. The officer, Darren Wilson, was cleared of wrongdoing and resigned in November 2014. The DOJ issued its report four months later, and within days the city's police chief, municipal judge and city manager had resigned.
The City Council rejected the agreement after a city analysis indicated the cost could reach nearly $4 million in the first year alone. Instead, the council approved an amended agreement that included seven provisions aimed mostly at keeping costs in check. Attorney General Loretta Lynch filed suit the next day, saying the vote amounted to a rejection of a settlement that had been negotiated for months with a team from Ferguson.
In her letter, Gupta noted that "it is not uncommon for financial or staffing challenges to arise" when implementing such DOJ agreements.
"Provided those challenges are genuine, approached in good faith, and not pretexts for non-compliance, we are committed to working with jurisdictions to overcome those challenges," she wrote.