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Praise and disappointment for Ferguson Mayor Knowles as recall effort moves forward

Emanuele Berry | St. Louis Public Radio

Many gathered to speak for and against Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III at Tuesday night's Ferguson City Council meeting. Earlier in the day, reports surfaced that a petition to recall the mayor would be turned into the city clerk and presented to the council at the meeting. However, the petition was never filed.

Alicia Street, a member of Ground Level Support, the organization behind the recall effort, told St. Louis Public Radio Tuesday night that the group was unable to file the petition because the city clerk had been out of the office in the afternoon. 

Mayor Knowles removal from office has been a goal of many protesters since Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man, was shot and killed by a white Ferguson police officer in August. Street said Knowles needs to be held accountable for what's happened in Ferguson.

“You have three main heads in Ferguson,” Street said. “You have the chief of police. You also have the city manager, and you have the mayor. They control this city and two of them stepped down after the DOJ (the Department of Justice issued a highly critical report) and we believe that Mayor Knowles needs to do the same thing.”

Street said Ground Level Support has collected “enough” signatures for a recall. Enough in this case means “fifteen percent of the total number of registered voters eligible to vote for such officer at the last election for such office.”That’s around 1,800 signatures.

Street said they plan to turn those signatures over to the city clerk “soon.”

Public comment, praise and disappointment

Although the petition to recall Knowles was never formally addressed by the Ferguson City Council during Tuesday's meeting, the public comment period gave many the opportunity to express their feelings about Knowles potentially being recalled.

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
Credit Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio
James Knowles III was the only person to run for Ferguson Mayor during the April 2014 election.

Laverne Mitchom said she came to the meeting to speak specifically to Knowles. She said she voted for Knowles when he ran for mayor. She liked his sincerity and his message of working together as a community. But she said that’s changed since August.

“Since the killing of Michael Brown you’ve disappointed me by some of your comments, and it may have been just what you felt,” Mitchom said to Knowles. “But you’ve disappointed me because the candidate that I voted for, you were sounding not like him.”

Criticism wasn't the only thing attendees had for mayor Knowles. There was also praise.

Pat Dreifke  said she came to the meeting to support the mayor and thank him.

“With last August's events. I just think you have shown great stamina and with working for progress or to move forward,” Dreifke said. “I think that’s what you’ve tried for all along, so I don't know where this is coming from, to go after you.”  

Dreifke’s also expressed concern about the cost of a recall election. She asked the council who would have to foot the bill for a recall vote and was told it would be the city’s financial responsibility.

Ferguson resident, Blake Ashby also complimented the mayor on his conduct since Brown’s death.

“Yes, I could probably point to a line or two that could have been said a little differently ( by Knowles),” Ashby said. “Yes, I could probably point to a line or two that was probably taken out of context. But given the extremity of the situation, I think you’ve done a very good job.”  

Ashby said although many people would like to see the mayor removed, he doesn't think the mayor being recalled will help the community move forward.

“At the end of the day you are one of seven people that make the decisions, so you are 14 percent of the power structure,” Ashby said to the council. “We will spend tens of thousands of dollars and in all likelihood we will continue to have you as our mayor. So you know, I want Ferguson to move forward. I support greater transparency. I also support changes to the police department and the court system. I support all of the goals that many of the people in this room share. I’m just not convinced that spending money to remove you, of all people, is going to help that,” Ashby said.

During the meeting Knowles did not acknowledge the recall effort. He did close the gathering by saying he appreciated hearing different perspectives from the audience.

“You know for the last nine months … probably the hardest thing to do, is to take not criticism, but take criticism that comes from both sides,” he said. “And at times I’ve looked in the mirror and said maybe that means I’m doing something right, because one thing I’m not trying to do is take a side. I’ve never felt that taking a side is moving a community forward, bringing people together,” Knowles said.   

Although the council did not verbally mention the recall petition, it did issue a statement.

Statement issued by the city of Ferguson regarding recall efforts.
Credit Emanuele Berry | St. Louis Public Radio
Statement issued by the city of Ferguson regarding recall efforts.

If the petition's signatures are verified by the County Board of Election, the city council would set a date to vote on the recall. If a majority of voters favor the recall then the city charter says  “the mayor pro tempore shall fill the vacancy until the next possible regular or special election.” Also according to the charter, the mayor pro tempore will be selected by the council from among its members.