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Michael Brown Shooting Looms Large Over County Council Meeting

Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio

For all intents and purposes, Tuesday’s St. Louis County Council meeting was uneventful. There were no major bills considered. And the face-to-face meeting between former Democratic county executive rivals didn’t happen. 

But this meeting was first time the council met since a Ferguson police officer shot and killed Michael Brown. And the 18-year-old’s death loomed large over the proceedings.

“This issue will be a test for all of us,” said St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley. “The world is watching and we need to get it right the first time.”

Dooley announced that the county’s Children’s Service Fund will be putting together a plan “for addressing mental health needs of children and families directly involved and for those in the community who may need support right now.” He said the fund’s director has already been in contact with several school districts near Ferguson.

“We’re going to do everything we can to make sure the people in our community feel safe in our community,” Dooley said. “We’re going to make sure law and order prevail. And we want everyone to just be calm. There’s a lot of frustration out there. We recognize that. There’s a lot of anger. And I can understand the anger.

“But at the same time, it still is our community,” he added.

Indeed, two mayors of north St. Louis County municipalities, Vinita Park Mayor James McGee and Bel-Nor Mayor Kevin Buchek, expressed frustration with the situation. McGee lamented that rioting that gripped the region was the “tip of the iceberg,” especially if young people don’t have access to jobs.

He also expressed dismay at the aggressive reaction of police in Ferguson -- including several St. Louis County officers -- toward protestors.

“The things that are being said, we need to temper that,” McGee said. “When you start calling people ‘animals’ and stuff like that, they’re going to react. And we need to take a close look at sensitivity training if we need it and be fair,  treat everybody like they’re human beings and then we wouldn’t be having a problem that we’re having now.”

Bucheck added that justice in this situation “doesn’t mean repercussions for those who break the law.”

“Justice means opportunity for everyone, equality for everyone,” said Bucheck.

Council Chairwoman Hazel Erby, a University City Democrat who represents Ferguson, said she’s been seeing “people totally frustrated over what happened.”

“We know the facts are not all in, but there are so many unanswered questions,” Erby said. “We heard that the young man did not get an ambulance for hours. So, the questions become how do they know he was deceased and why didn’t they call for someone to come take care of him?”

While Erby said she “can understand why the community is upset” over the shooting, she added that she doesn’t think “it’s our community that’s causing the problems.”

“They’re upset and they’re marching and all of that,” Erby said. “But the people who are doing the vandalism and whatever, I think that’s from outside of our community.”

Dooley upbeat after defeat

Tuesday’s meeting was the first time the council met since the Aug. 5 election. Dooley lost in the Democratic primary in a landslide to Councilman Steve Stenger, D-Affton, and will leave office after December. 

Credit Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio
Republican St. Louis County Executive nominee Rick Stream talks to Councilwoman Kathleen Wasinger, R-Town and Country, on Tuesday.

Stenger was not at Tuesday’s council meeting. He was on hand at a meeting of clergy members in Florissant.

Despite the resounding loss, Dooley said “he felt good.” He went onto say “a loss is a loss, regardless of how small or large it is. It’s a loss.”

“The people have spoken and we’re moving on,” Dooley said.

Stenger will face off against state Rep. Rick Stream, R-Kirkwood, in the general election. Stream attended Tuesday’s meeting, along with two future members of the county council – Democrat Sam Page and Republican Mark Harder.

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.