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Ferguson Commission mulls over passing the baton to FOCUS St. Louis

Ferguson Commission manager director Bethany Johnson-Javois and co-chairman Rich McClure look at some notes before the start of Wednesday's meeting.
File photo by Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
Ferguson Commission manager director Bethany Johnson-Javois and co-chairman Rich McClure review notes before the start of a September meeting.

On Monday, commissioners heard from FOCUS St. Louis, which wants to become what the commission describes as a “core intermediary” or a group that “provides infrastructure and support to advance the work of the Ferguson Commission."

Since the commission will disband Dec. 31, it needs an entity to help follow through on its suggestions. Commissioners are planning for a caretaker of sorts to help others follow through on its recommendations. These included changes to the region’s economic, educational and law enforcement environment. While many of the suggestions require action from local and state elected officials, others could conceivably be done outside the governmental sphere.

FOCUS St. Louis was the only organization to apply for a request for proposals that was put out in late September.Among other things, the nonprofit group plans to:

  • Provide oversight of “action plans” and progress toward achieving the commission’s signature priorities. It would also hold entities accountable for progress and achievement of some of the commission’s priorities.
  • Push groups for “timely and successful action.”
  • Provide logistical support such as meeting space, administrative coordination, public information sharing, communication and leadership.

“We believe that the Forward Ferguson report has certainly created a roadmap, a roadmap that is continued by the work of the core intermediary,” said FOCUS St. Louis CEO and President Yemi Akande-Bartsch. “And we see ourselves as a convener that assembles the community around a shared vision. And this evening, we’re certainly asking the community for the privilege to serve as that entity to be a steward and a convener of change.”

Akande-Bartsch emphasized that her organization will not “own” the commission’s report or recommendations or determine how to implement the suggestions. Instead, the group described its role as an “incubator of progress” for “community voices to be heard and included in Calls to Action achievement.”

“We know there will be great successes, both in the short, mid and long-range and there are going to be failures,” said Michelle Miller, who is director of FOCUS St. Louis CORO Program in public affairs. “We acknowledge that failures are a path to learning, and we’ll treat them as such. We’ll share these failures publicly through open communications so the public can help us identify solutions.”

Akande-Bartsch estimated that it would cost about $1.4 million for about 18 months in work. She said her group would seek funding from a number of sources, including “national-level partnerships with philanthropies, companies, individuals and organizations that wish to support the work.”

Given the national interest in the issues raised, "certainly the money is there," she said. “And part of what we’re doing right now is making a case for how we can move forward and who needs to be at the table and the different types of financing options that are for us.”

The commission stopped short on Monday of giving FOCUS St. Louis full approval to be its core intermediary. It wants the group to modify certain aspects of its proposal by mid-December, including bolstering FOCUS' partnerships with "grassroots organization" within the initiative.

“This is new ground for our community. It’s certainly new ground for this commission and it’s really new ground for any commission that we’ve able to determine in recent times,” said Ferguson Commission co-chairman Rich McClure. “Many commissions file their report, make their recommendations and then don’t take this next step. And so we think it’s an important step to take. But we do so noting that we’re working with a playbook that we’re writing as we go here. And I think that’s appropriate.”

Note: Tim Eby, general manager of St. Louis Public Radio, chairs the FOCUS St. Louis board of directors.

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