The leaders of St. Louis and St. Louis County say their administrations are tackling the big issues that were highlighted in the Ferguson Commission report.
The commission’s nearly 200-page final report showcased substantial racial, economic and social divides throughout the St. Louis region and provided dozens of policy recommendations. Many of the report’s suggestions require action from the Missouri General Assembly, but some could be implemented by local governments.
In an interview on Wednesday, Stenger said he’s spent the past couple of weeks reading through the Ferguson Commission report. He said county government can be a major actor on such issues as fighting poverty and health-care disparities.
“What the Ferguson report is all about is really a regional approach to addressing many of these issues,” said Stenger, who did not attend a press conference publicly unveiling the report. “And it recognizes that we have a regional economy, we have a regional image, we have regional poverty, we have regional educational issues, and we are going to need to approach these things regionally. And a large component of the region is St. Louis County. We have a million people.”
The report's major concerns include inequities in the region’s education system and law enforcement agencies. While Stenger doesn’t have direct control over schools in the county or any of the police departments, he said his administration can still provide guidance and resources to deal with tough issues.
“And what we do in St. Louis County may not be exactly what’s contained in the Ferguson report, it’s certainly very similar in spirit – and it’s nearly identical in detail,” Stenger said.
For instance, Stenger said the St. Louis County Children’s Services fund “tried to fill any gaps that we can.” He also said the St. Louis County Police Department, which is overseen by the St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners, is looking to fine-tune how officers train. (Altering how police officers train is a major aspect of the report.)
And he said he has directed the St. Louis County Health Department to address gaps in health-care coverage.
“We have disparities in providing health care. We have disparities in health outcomes,” Stenger said. “And we began immediately in my administration in addressing disparities in health. Our director of health, Dr. Kahn, is keenly aware of these issues and is addressing them every day.”
'My team is all on board'
For his part, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay told St. Louis Public Radio last month that “we’re going to be using the Ferguson Commission recommendation as a guide and as a template to influence our policies, our procedures, and the way we address some of these issues as we go forward from a policy standpoint.”
“My team is all on board. And we’re looking at taking a lead from a regional standpoint on many of these things they’re recommending,” Slay said soon after the report came out. “And we already have in the past. We have a civilian review board. That’s one of the things that they’ve talked about. Education is at the forefront.”
Slay added that “you’re going to see our record with respect to this from a city standpoint is far ahead of anyplace else anywhere in the St. Louis region -- and for that matter, any places in the United States.”
“It’s a regional economy. A regional image. And crime doesn’t stop at the borders. Neither does health. So what we need to do is make sure we act more as a region rather than a divided standpoint,” Slay said. “I’ve also been advocating on doing some consolidation from a regional standpoint. We have too many small municipalities, too many small municipal governments – that’s being addressed somewhat at a state level."
Erby remains skeptical
But among those who are skeptical of county government’s ability to move the Ferguson Commission’s priorities forward is St. Louis County Councilwoman Hazel Erby, a University City Democrat who represents Ferguson on the County Council.
Erby, who has tussled with Stenger and other councilmembers in recent months, was blunt when asked if Stenger’s administration could act on the commission’s suggestions: “I don’t have any faith in county government.”
She said she had no problem with Stenger. “The problem that I have is probably he and the council as a whole. If I come up with anything that addresses the issues that we found and identified over the last year or so, I don’t get any support from the other councilmembers.
“So I don’t see anything that the council is doing,” she added. “I don’t have any faith in anything that he’s come up with.”
Still, Erby noted that the county government could do more to assist with struggling schools. She went so far to say that Stenger’s predecessor – former St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley – could have been more active in advocating for the Normandy School District when it was beginning to fail.
“When that decision was made and as it was coming down, I never heard anything from county government other than what I was actually doing. And that was just meeting with some people trying to come up with some solutions,” Erby said. “I don’t think that the county executive gets a bye. He oversees St. Louis County. And so, he may not be able to directly get any funds or do whatever. But he can certainly meet with the people that he represents, speak to the governor and be visible. Be active in the fight for securing a quality education for the very children and families that he represents.”
Erby said the Children’s Services Fund could be helpful to struggling school districts – especially helping schoolchildren with mental health issues. But she isn’t optimistic that the region’s leaders will be able to follow through on the Ferguson Commission’s lead.
“I don’t see it happening. I hope that it does,” Erby said. “That was my feeling when the report came out is that – ‘OK, the report is out. So now what?’ You have to have funding to go along some of the things that they’ve proposed. And then you have to have someone who’s willing to move it forward. We don’t just need a report that just sits there and then nobody administers or follows through to see that those recommendations come about. That’s the thing that troubles me. And I don’t know who’s going to do that.”