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Former Ferguson Mayor Will Seek City Council Seat

Committee chairman and former mayor Brian Fletcher talks with a resident and a volunteer about the "I Love Ferguson" new store that will sell items including the logo-bearing T-shirts.
Stephanie Lecci
St. Louis Public Radio

Former two-term Ferguson Mayor Brian Fletcher said Thursday that he’s seeking a City Council seat in April's election.

“I do plan on coming back. I plan to run for 2nd Ward in City Council, and I would be proud to serve the people in Ferguson if they’ll have me again,” Fletcher told “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh.

Fletcher served as the city’s mayor from 2005 to 2011. He spent 16 years as a Democratic committeeman, and served on the Ferguson-Florissant School District’s board.

Ferguson Mayor James Knowles’ term ends in two years, but Fletcher says he doesn’t plan to return to that position. “But you never say never,” he said. “It depends what the current mayor would decide to do. I think he’s doing a pretty good job myself.”

Fletcher said, in retrospect, it’s easy to identify things he would have changed during his tenure as mayor.

“When I was in office for 28 years, I received only two racial concerns,” Fletcher said. “You can’t fix a problem unless you’re aware of it. I don’t know why there wasn’t the comfort level to come to me and say ‘Mr. Mayor, this is an issue. Can you look into it for me?’ But the issues that were brought to be, we dealt with.”

Fletcher has been a vocal proponent of Ferguson, launching the I Love Ferguson committee in August, and strong opponent of Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, even calling for the governor’s resignation in November.

I Love Ferguson was created after businesses were robbed and defaced after Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown on Aug. 9. The group, which opened a store at 299 S. Florissant Road in October sells T-shirts, mugs, yard signs and other merchandise to raise money for businesses.

“It’s all about healing the community — trying to help,” Fletcher said. “It’s a grassroots, resident-ran community effort. It’s not ran by elected officials of any sort.

“It also raises serious money for the businesses. We give outright grants through an organization called Reinvest North County. It’s an application process: first-come, first-served. It’s not nearly enough money, of course, but we’re doing every bit we can. We have personally donated $15,000 so far, and we expect to give another $40,000 very soon.”

On Nov. 24, hours after St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch announced a grand jury would not indict Wilson in the shooting, businesses were set on fire and robbed again in Ferguson and nearby Dellwood. Nixon had declared a state of emergency nearly a week earlier, authorizing the Missouri National Guard to support local law enforcement after the grand jury announcement. But on that night, the National Guard was slow to respond.

Earlier this week, Ferguson Mayor James Knowles, who also has criticized Nixon’s actions, said law enforcement officials had asked for the National Guard’s assistance, but it was not available. “By the time they were deployed, damage had already been done to the city of Dellwood and the city of Ferguson,” Knowles said Monday.

“What happened in August was just a small sample of what happened a week ago last Monday. Devastation,” Fletcher said. “Our residents were in tears. We could not believe our eyes — what happened when we were promised by the governor that we would be protected. I could hear from my house the tear gas explosions and the propane tanks exploding in the first. It was like I was living in the war zone.”

“The only thing the governor could have did worse was to join in the looting himself.”

Fletcher is now calling on the governor to seek federal assistance.

“This is not a natural disaster, it’s a man-made disaster — part of which Mr. Nixon is responsible for,” Fletcher said. “We need for him to be a leader now and ask for President (Barack) Obama’s assistance.”

Fletcher said he would continue to pressure Nixon on that point.

“We were denied the help we were promised. We’re going to get the assistance to rebuild now,” he said.

On Monday, the 16-member Ferguson Commission, created and hand-picked by Nixon, met for the first time. The commission has been charged with addressing community problems, and producing a report of policy recommendations by September. At its first meeting, which lasted more than six hours, the commission identified the top priorities it will address: citizen law enforcement relations, fines and fees from municipal courts, education, economic opportunity, and race relations.

“Our challenge is to make sure we keep the focus on these critically important and serious problems in our region,” commission chairman Rich McClure said Wednesday on “St. Louis on the Air.”

But Fletcher said he’s not impressed.

“I attended the first hour or so and, quite frankly, I got bored,” he said. “The first hour was spent pontificating about these skills and backgrounds of the people that were picked for the commission. And then later it broke down into an outright fiasco. But I think if they handle it appropriate and they listen — they need to listen more than they talk.”

Addressing Diversity In Ferguson

After Brown’s death in August, several people have complained about the lack of diversity in Ferguson’s police department and leadership.

“We’ve only had three African-Americans ever run for office in the city of Ferguson,” Fletcher said. “The last two have actually been elected against Caucasian candidates.”

Fletcher said more people need to get involved in government.

“It’s hard to run for mayor right off. You need to get in a civic group, a board of commission. Get somehow involved. Build a network you need to become a leader in your community. Some of these young people I’m seeing are becoming those leaders. They just need to take the next step.”

While nearly 70 percent of Ferguson’s residents are black, there are only four black officers on the city’s police department, which employs more than 70 people. But that’s not the only imbalance, Fletcher said.

“We have a community of 53 percent female, and we don’t have 53 percent female officers either. This is a real problem because there’s not enough candidates coming out of the police academies that either are African-American or female,” Fletcher said.

“Now with female, I believe it’s because it’s not a traditional role of a mother to be a police officer. With African-Americans, I think there’s a negative connotation of being an African-American who is a police officer — that you’re somehow a traitor. Why would an African-American male want to become a police officer when their own community views them as a negative? The fact is, you have to have a high school graduation; you have to be able to pass the entrance test. This does limit the number of African-Americans coming through the academy.”

Changes have been proposed in Ferguson, including a civilian police review board and changes to how the city collects court fines and fees. Fletcher said both are long overdue, citing the Ferguson Community Service Program, which lets teens perform community service to pay off fines. “We need to extend that to our adults,” Fletcher said.

Calling Ferguson the “Mayberry RFD of St. Louis County,” Fletcher rattled off a list of positives about the city, including its “world-class farmers market,” local library, and independent fire and police departments.

“The people of Ferguson accept diversity, embrace it and we’re going to continue to do that,” he said. “I hope the legacy in the future becomes how we recovered from this situation and learned from it, became a model community throughout the country.”

“St. Louis on the Air” discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.

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