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Final Ferguson Town Hall Just A Start

Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III is one of the few north St. Louis County elected officials who is active in Republican politics. Before Michael Brown's shooting death, he pitched the idea of making county offices in a merged St. Louis and St. Louis Count
Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio

The Ferguson community looked to move forward Tuesday evening, at the last in a series of town hall meetings run by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Ferguson Mayor James Knowles said the last meeting was drastically different from the first town hall, held about a month ago.

“That very first meeting was a lot of venting and frustrations. There was still a lot of anger,” he said. “There are still frustrations, but you know, I just left hugging someone who was screaming at me for the first three or four meetings.”

Over the past month, the town halls have focused on misconceptions about the Ferguson community, communication and racial divisions. Last night’s meeting was titled “A Road Map for Growth: Where Do We Go From Here.” Around 150 attended Tuesday’s gathering, a smaller amount than in previous weeks.

Similar to the other town halls, attendance was limited to Ferguson residents and business owners.

Patricia Delvecchio of Ferguson said this meeting combined many of the issues brought up at meetings over the past month. She said the community identified three major areas of concern.

“One is youth, another is police and community relations and one is the quality of life in the Ferguson community,” she said.

Ferguson residents broke into small groups to address the issues. Delvecchio said they talked about bringing resources for youth, creating a more inclusive community, and building respect between police and residents through transparency.

Community members will continue to work on the major areas of concerns, as part of a citizens’ task force. Delvecchio said working groups of citizens focused on each of the three topics will work with city staff to move initiatives forward.

“I hope that we start moving toward a model of what other cities can and should do in terms of dealing with the issues that that unfortunate incident raised,” she said. “I think it’s been there but not addressed so I’m hoping Ferguson becomes a model for how you can hopefully prevent those kinds of situations by constructive engagement of the community with one another.”

Ferguson resident Ruth Benner volunteered for the task force focusing on community and police relations. She said she feels like there has been progress made in the meetings, but she’s worried some voices are missing from the conversation.

“I think it has been beneficial, just the communication among the groups is good,” Benner said. “Tonight’s group wasn’t real large, but it was fairly diverse. I think there needs to be more young people. Tonight I don’t think I noticed very many young black people.”

The lack of youth is something many attendees remarked on, including Knowles. The mayor said that, to bring younger voices into the conversation, they are planning a youth summit in conjunction with the national My Brother’s Keeper program. The event is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 15. Knowles said the Justice Department will continue to play a role in future meetings.

Knowles said the town halls are just the start for the community to move forward.

“Throughout this process I’ve been able to hear a lot that I’ve never heard before,” Knowles said. “That’s a learning process for me, and I think it’s a learning process for residents in that room who also never heard some of those voices. It’s a process that we are going to continue, and I think Ferguson will grow stronger from it.”