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Adversaries of Ferguson mayor fail to gather enough signatures to trigger recall

Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III meets the press on Wednesday. He announced Police Chief Tom Jackson was stepping aside.
Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio
An effort to recall Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III fell short of the required signatures.

Petitioners seeking to oust controversial Ferguson Mayor James Knowles from office haven't gathered enough valid signatures to trigger a recall election.

Eric Fey, the Democratic director of elections at St. Louis County Board of Elections, told St. Louis Public Radio that petitioners had gathered 1,008 valid signatures. They needed 1,814 to trigger a recall.

Fey also said that 1,125 signatures were declared invalid: 562 of the names weren’t registered in St. Louis County, while another 366 didn’t live in Ferguson.

“So it looks like they collected a substantial amount of signatures from folks that didn’t live in Ferguson,” Fey said.

As for the remaining 197, Fey said:

  • 19 names had “blank lines” within the petition.
  • 65 names didn’t provide an address.
  • 65 names didn’t provide a signature.
  • 18 names had the wrong signature that was on file with the election board.
  • 30 names were duplicates.

One of the people leading the charge against Knowles isn't surprised by the result. 
"With any recall petition, you have good and you have bad," said Phil Gassoway with Ground Level Support, the group trying to recall Knowles. "So you know; it’s nothing that we didn’t expect.”

Even though petitioners fell short of the 1,814-signature threshold, Knowles isn’t completely out of the woods yet.

According to the Ferguson city charter,the petitioners will be notified by certified mail that they did not collect enough signatures. They will have two days to file an intent to pursue an amended petition with additional signatures. After that, the additional signatures must be filed within 10 days.

Gassoway said he was optimistic.

“We’ve got more signatures," he said. "What happened was we didn’t get them all notarized by the people that circulated the petition. We’ve also been out there gathering more signatures. This is something we expected. It’s no big deal.”

Work to do

Like other Ferguson officials, Knowles was roundly criticized for his response to Michael Brown’s shooting death. But he has repeatedly said he wouldn’t resign from office. That prompted the recall effort.

Ferguson new city council met for the first time on Tuesday.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
The Ferguson City Council is aligned fairly closely with Knowles, who is charged with presiding over the city's legislative body.

Ferguson’s mayor has fairly little formal power and is for all intents and purposes an at-large council member. But in many respects, he appears to be in a fairly strong position after “protest” candidates failed to secure open seats on Ferguson's City Council earlier this year.

In an interview, Knowles said it remains to be seen if petitioners can gather enough signatures. But regardless of the outcome, Knowles said the fact that “there’s a thousand valid signatures says to me that I’ve got a number of people that I need to reach out to.

“Just like everybody else, I’ve tried to reach out to in the community, I want to reach out to them and hopefully continue to work on bringing the community together,” Knowles said. “Beyond that, we’ll see in 10 days if they get enough. And then if they do, we’ll have to deal with the consequences of having another election. But right now, I’m focused on what it’s going to take to bring people together and find out what the frustrations and issues are with people – especially with people who signed the petition.”

Knowles said that if petitioners get enough signatures, the recall election would likely be in November.

“We’ll just have to wait to see if they can get the valid amount,"And hopefully between now and then, we’ll continue to bring people together and reach out to people again who are clearly frustrated. They wouldn’t sign a petition like this if they weren’t frustrated.”

Council approves new hires

Meanwhile, the Ferguson City Council filled two key vacancies within its city government at Tuesday’s meeting.

The Council tapped Ed Beasley as the city’s interim city manager for up to six months. Beasley, who was city manager for Glendale, Ariz., for about 10 years — is to receive about $84,500 in salary and housing for a full six-month term.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported yesterday on Beasley's controversial tenure in Glendale. A year after he left his position, the paper reported, an external audit found Beasley and his employees misled the Glendale City Council about an early retirement program.

Beasley told the Post-Dispatch last night he had “never had a bad review” before the audit during his 27 years in city management.

Before last night's meeting, Knowles stressed that Beasley is strictly an interim employee while the city looks for a permanent city manager. But, he added, Beasley's short tenure could be eventful.

“He’s going to be the person to institute a lot of changes and things that the city council’s working on,” Knowles said. “This is going to help us start moving the ball or keep moving the ball a little faster on a number of things because we’ll have the staffing and the leadership day-to-day that can do it.”

The council also approved hiring Donald McCullin to be Ferguson’s new municipal court judge. McCullin, circuit judge in St. Louis between 1999 and 2011, is currently a hearing office for the St. Louis Parking Commission and the St. Louis Civil Service Commission.

McCullin’s appointment won plaudits from Ferguson City Councilman Wesley Bell, who serves as a municipal court judge in Velda City and a municipal prosecutor in Riverview.

“Judge McCullin has served as a mentor for so many attorneys, including myself,” said Bell in a statement sent to St. Louis Public Radio. “But the best compliment I can give him is that he has a reputation for not only his knowledge of the law, and legal skill, but for his ‘fairness’ to all people. Our court will be in very good and capable hands under his stewardship.”

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