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Ferguson leaders wonder if monitor is worth the cost

November 22, 2017 GMT

FERGUSON, Mo. - Ferguson, Mo., has paid nearly a half-million dollars to the monitor team overseeing its police and court reforms, but city leaders question what they’ve gotten for their money, especially after the departure of the original lead monitor.

Washington attorney Clark Kent Ervin resigned in September after serving a little over a year as lead monitor overseeing the consent agreement between the U.S. Department of Justice and Ferguson, the St. Louis suburb where Michael Brown was fatally shot by a police officer in 2014.

Boston attorney Natashia Tidwell, who has been with the Ferguson monitor team since its start, now leads it.

Concerns over the cost of monitoring were detailed in exclusive interviews with The Associated Press.

The money spent on monitoring is costly in Ferguson, paid for entirely with city funds.

The community of 20,000 is much smaller, with far less money, than most cities subject to Justice Department consent agreements. Money is so tight that Ferguson voters twice in 2016 approved tax increases to keep the budget balanced.

Mayor James Knowles III said Ervin failed to follow through on some projects, including opening an office in Ferguson and surveying residents. City Attorney Apollo Carey said his departure slowed a court audit and other reforms.

“It begs the question: What are residents getting out of (monitoring)?” Knowles said. “They’re supposed to be getting transparency. They’re supposed to be getting regular updates and engagement from the monitor. They haven’t gotten any of it.”

City Manager De’Carlon Seewood said “there were a lot of concerns on both sides,” which led to Ervin stepping down. “The thought was it was best to depart,” Seewood said.

Ervin did not respond to phone and email messages seeking comment.

Ferguson fell under Justice Department scrutiny after Brown was killed by Ferguson officer Darren Wilson during an Aug. 9, 2014, confrontation on a neighborhood street.

A St. Louis County grand jury and the Justice Department declined to charge Wilson, who resigned in November 2014.

But the shooting of the black, unarmed 18-year-old by the white officer drew attention to allegations about mistreatment of African-Americans by Ferguson’s police and court system. A Justice Department investigation led to a civil rights lawsuit that was settled in 2016 with the consent agreement.

The agreement called for paying the eight-member monitor team up to $350,000 a year, with the total amount to be capped out at $1.25 million over five years.

Ferguson paid $350,000 for the first 12-month period, and has paid another $145,000 since July of this year, its records show.

Of the initial $350,000, $291,192 was paid to Ervin’s law firm, Squire Patton Boggs, according to Ferguson records.

Since July of this year, an additional $108,000 has been paid out to a data collection firm, along with $21,000 to Tidwell and $15,000 split between two other monitor team members, Knowles said.