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DOJ Limits Attendance At Monday’s Ferguson Town Hall Meetings

Mayor James Knowles III
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

Ferguson city council is holding the first of five town hall meetings Monday at 6 p.m.

The meetings are being billed as an opportunity for Ferguson residents to have a conversation with the council members who represent them, with separate meeting locations designated for different wards.

According to Ferguson Mayor James Knowles, the idea is to create a more intimate setting in order to facilitate dialog.

“I think there are a lot of people who really just want answers,” Knowles said. “So there’s going to be questions and there’s going to be answers. We’ve heard a lot of the questions over the last six weeks, and so we’re already prepared to help people understand what we’ve been doing.”

Knowles said the city council will listen a lot, but council members will also talk in order to clear up some of the misperceptions that have developed over the past six weeks. He plans to split his time between both meetings Monday.

While city residents are invited to talk with their ward’s city council members, media and non-residents may not be allowed to witness the conversation.

Ferguson spokesman Devin James said the U.S. Department of Justice has told the city that the meetings need to be kept confidential.  

“The gist is that people with cameras in their faces are going to act and respond differently,” James said.

According to James, the city would keep the meeting open to everyone, but the DOJ has told them they can’t.

“So it’s not us making that call. When media shows up, if DOJ lets them in it’s on them. It’s not us saying that they can’t come in,” James said.

The DOJ’s Community Relations Service (CRS) is overseeing Ferguson’s town halls. According to the DOJ website, the agency was formed by Title IX of the Civil Rights Act with a mission to help communities resolve racial conflicts.

Some non-residents may be allowed into the town halls, however. James said the DOJ just wants to give priority to Ferguson residents. St. Louis Public Radio reached out to the DOJ to confirm the policy but the agency has not returned phone calls.

Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille