Two months ago, St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones found her plans for a Detention Facilities Oversight Board facing potentially fatal opposition from the St. Louis Board of Aldermen.
What a difference two months can make.
Yesterday, two nominees to the board whose nominations came under fire garnered aldermanic approval. A third, who'd walked away just after being confirmed, has now rescinded her resignation.
"Thank you for nominating me to the Detention Facilities Oversight Board (DFOB) and for working so hard to assure that the original nine members have been approved by the Board of Alderman," Pamela Walker wrote in a letter to the mayor yesterday. "It is an honor to be nominated and it would be an honor to serve."
Walker's about-face was triggered by the restored nominations of two Black activists. Both men had faced opposition for their previous work lobbying to close the city's workhouse. Mike Milton, best known for his work starting up the Bail Project's St. Louis office, saw his nomination voted down. The nomination of Reverend Darryl Gray, an activist who's led protest marches, also faced resistance — and was withdrawn before it could be rejected.
In April, Walker, the city's former health director, had suggested the board without Milton and Gray would be doomed to a "contentious and combative relationship with the social justice community." She quit one day after winning confirmation.
With the three members now back in the fold, the board is fully empaneled — and Nick Desideri, a spokesman for Mayor Jones, said it should soon convene its first meeting.
Said Desideri, "It is an example of how even after three shocking federal indictments led to three resignations of city officials, city government and the Board of Aldermen continue to function."
And yet, yesterday's vote may suggest less that city government continues to function and more that it's now functioning with a whole lot less rancor. Opposition to Milton and Gray had been led by the very members who were indicted last month, including former Alderman John Collins-Muhammad and then-Aldermanic President Lewis Reed. Without them on the board, the two activists found smooth sailing.
The city's troubled jails aren't the only area where Mayor Jones is finding less resistance — at least for now. Earlier this week, she signed a budget passed by the Board of Aldermen — something that used to happen every year but hadn't happened since 2019.
“It demonstrates how city leaders can work together even after this month’s shocking resignations,” Jones told the Post-Dispatch — a quote that sounds a whole lot like the one from Desideri yesterday.
For all the good will emanating from City Hall these days, the detention oversight board has a lot of work ahead. The City Justice Center saw numerous riots last year, and a class-action lawsuit alleges jailers used enough mace to leave inmates forced to "marinate" in it. It'll be up to Jones to demonstrate whether she can use this period of less resistance from the Board of Aldermen to make change.
Appreciate the #STLBOA confirming my nominee, @MikeAMilton314, to the Detention Facilities Oversight Board. The DFOB will help ensure claims of injustice within our facilities are taken seriously.— Mayor Tishaura O. Jones (@saintlouismayor) June 30, 2022
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