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At final meeting, Ferguson Commission looks to leaders — and St. Louisans — to carry out its work

Members of the Ferguson Commission lead a moment of reflection on Monday in St. Louis. The Commission held its final meeting in St. Louis.
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
Members of the Ferguson Commission lead a moment of reflection on Monday in St. Louis. The Commission held its final meeting in St. Louis.

The Ferguson Commission is wrapping up its work examining economic, educational and law enforcement inequities throughout St. Louis.

In its final meeting Monday night, the group did not completely turn over its agenda to Focus St. Louis, as had been anticipated, but created a new bridge entity that will work with Focus. At issue was how to push for change and encourage discussion.

More than a year of sometimes tense inquiry into public policymaking that followed Michael Brown’s shooting death culminated earlier this fall with a multi-faceted report laying out dozens of policy recommendations.

The commission, which will disband after Dec. 31, sought out an existing organization to be its “core intermediary”to “provide infrastructure and support to advance the work of the Ferguson Commission."

Focus St. Louis was the only organization to apply. And after being asked in November to refine its proposal, commissioners put in motion a plan to establisha new entity called “Forward Through Ferguson” to partner with Focus St. Louis in monitoring implementation efforts. That was approved Monday night, along with turning over much of the work to Focus. How the new partnership will work is not yet clear.

“In putting function over form, we identified that there needs to be a bridge between the institutional memory and the relationship building of the commission,” said commission communications director Nicole Hudson. “So this Forward Through Ferguson entity, its purpose is to provide that bridge. And in terms of structural design, we’d like to design it as light as possible to enable it to enter in contract and partner with FOCUS.

“But our goal isn’t to create another entity, but it might be necessary to have an entity in order to achieve what the community is asking us to do,” she added.

Hudson said there's still work to be done to figure out how the “Forward Through Ferguson” entity will be structured. Ferguson Commission Co-Chairmen Starsky Wilson and Rich McClure will likely spend the next few weeks pinning down details of the partnership between the new entity and FOCUS St. Louis before the commission dissolves.

FOCUS St. Louis CEO and President Yemi Akande-Bartschhas said that her group 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.” 

FOCUS St. Louis President and CEO Yemi Akande-Bartsch, left, speaks with a member of the audience on Monday.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
FOCUS St. Louis President and CEO Yemi Akande-Bartsch (in blue) speaks with a member of the audience on Monday.

She reiterated that goal after the commission’s final meeting was over.

“And in terms of the work moving forward, one of our greatest skills and assets is the fact that we can convene broad section of individuals in the community,” Akande-Bartsch said. “So individuals that need to make that work happen, that need to help implement those 189 calls to action, we have the ability and partnership with the greater community to be able to do that.”

There’s been some headway to carry out the commission’s recommendation since its final report came out in September. The state’s commission that licenses police officers is examining a slew of new training procedures. And Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster announced efforts to curb what he sees as abusive debt collecting procedures within the judiciary.

Still, many of the recommendations will require buy-in from local and state lawmakers — especially for many law enforcement-related proposals. Some proposals may face a tough reception from Missouri's GOP-controlled legislature, especially one to supply independent prosecutors in the event of police-involved killings.

The Rev. Starsky Wilson delivered a powerful ending to the Commission's work.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
The Rev. Starsky Wilson delivered a powerful ending to the Commission's work.

In a stirring address near the close of the meeting, Wilson provided a direct message to all Missourians striving to be the state’s top elected leaders — they need to pay attention to St. Louisans who want to bring change throughout the region.

“We’ve got people running for elective office right now — they’re asking for votes,” Wilson said after the meeting concluded. “We have a people’s agenda. We have the people’s report. And all of those folks should be assessed, versus what the people have said. That’s the next year for our region. That’s the next year for this area that will be critical in an electoral campaign, for statewide folks and maybe even some national folks.

"So we’ve got to make sure we know our agenda well enough to ask those people where they stand,” he added.

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.