The leaders of Ferguson, Missouri, are very much on board with the vast majority of the Department of Justice's demands of them in order to improve the way it treats its citizens, which until the outrage that followed Michael Brown's shooting, was like they were human piggy banks to be shaken down for loose change by the police and courts.
Last night, Ferguson's City Council voted to sign on to most of the 127-page list of demands and reforms that the Department of Justice has put before them designed to make the police and courts less prone to violating the civil rights of its citizens. But as I noted yesterday, there are some problems with the consent decree. There are components to it that appear to have nothing to do with civil rights and instead look like giveaways to city public safety employees that will drastically increase the amount of money the now-broke community will have to spend each year. The city is already spending at a deficit and analysts worried the agreement with the DOJ would add another $3 million or more to the city's expenses.
So last night, when it came time to vote, City Council unanimously approved the consent, but with seven conditions or changes. The big one is that the city is resisting orders to increase wages for its police or other staff. As noted yesterday, the mayor said they would have to hike the wages of each police officers by more than $14,000 a year on average and possibly have to eliminate other city government positions to give more money to the very people the citizens have accused of abusing them.
Here's the full list of the alterations they want to make to the agreement (Via ABC):
- The agreement contains no mandate for additional salary to police department or other city employees.
- The agreement contains no mandate for staffing in the Ferguson jail.
- Deadlines in the original agreement are extended.
- Terms of the agreement will not apply to other governmental entities or agencies who, in the future, take over services now provided by the city of Ferguson.
- Include a provision for local preference in contracting with consultants, contractors and third parties providing services.
- Include project goals for minorities and women participating in consulting, oversight and third-party services.
- Changes monitoring fee caps to $1 million over the first five years of the agreement, with no more than $250,000 in any single year.
As we can see from some of these provisions, Ferguson leaders have clearly have an eye on trying to contract out services to save money. This is actually a wise idea if the city wants to remain intact. The town of 21,000 has a limited tax base and the predation of its citizenry was primarily due to the costs of providing its own services. If it stops actually seizing its citizens' money, it needs to find new sources of revenue (it is attempting to convince residents to raise taxes) or it needs to significantly reduce spending. If the citizens don't want to embrace more taxes, then Ferguson needs the flexibility to contract out for services or else it could very well cease to exist. That was what city leaders and some residents feared if they accepted the agreement as is.
The Justice Department responded by immediately threatening legal action:
"The Ferguson City Council has attempted to unilaterally amend the negotiated agreement," Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, who heads the department's Civil Rights Division, said in a statement in response to the vote. "Their vote to do so creates an unnecessary delay in the essential work to bring constitutional policing to the city, and marks an unfortunate outcome for concerned community members and Ferguson police officers."
Gupta said the department "will take the necessary legal actions" to reform the city's courts and policing practices.
As far as the DOJ is concerned, Ferguson either accepts an agreement it can't afford (which has components that have absolutely nothing to do with ending abusive law enforcement and municipal court behavior) or it will face a lawsuit it probably also can't afford.
Read more about last night's vote here.