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Ferguson City Manager John Shaw

John Shaw - City of Ferguson photo

FERGUSON • Ferguson city manager John Shaw, the city's most powerful official, resigned Tuesday night.

The Ferguson City Council voted on a “mutual separation agreement." All city council members were present at a meeting, and the vote was 7-0. The resignation is effective at midnight.

The city will conduct a nationwide search for the new city manager. Shaw made $120,000 a year.

Shaw, 39, was criticized in the Department of Justice report for praising Ferguson municipal judge Ron Brockmeyer as a money maker and revenue generator for the city. Brockmeyer resigned from the judge's position on Monday.

A city council member raised concerns about Brockmeyer three years ago, saying he didn't listen to testimony, review reports, or allow witnesses to testify, and suggested that Brockmeyer not be reappointed. Shaw acknowledged Brockmeyer's work had issues, but said , “It goes without saying the city cannot afford to lose any efficiency in our courts, nor experience any decrease in our fines and forfeitures,” Shaw said.

The city manager has the power to hire, appoint, and fire employees of the city, except the city clerk. The city manager oversees the annual budget and communicates with the city council about the city's financial condition.

“After much thought and prayer, I feel it is in the community's best interest that I step aside at this time,” said a letter from Shaw, distributed at the meeting. “I care deeply for this community, and I believe that with our coming municipal election it is the appropriate time for the city to experience change in its city manager.”

He went on to thank past and present city leaders, those in the business community and residents. Shaw had served in the position for eight years.

He cited the city's recognition in 2012 as an All American City Finalist in 2010 by the national Civic League, the opening of its first community center, a new fire station, a plaza which is a gathering spot for outdoor performances, and other programs to help others.

“Over the last several months I have done everything in my power to work with countless groups to bring about positive change and strengthen our community,” he said, including the Department of Justice. “And while I certainly respect the work that the DOJ recently performed in their investigation and report on the city of Ferguson, I must state clearly that my office has never instructed the police department to target African Americans, nor falsify charges to administer fines, nor heap abuses on the backs of the poor. Any inferences of that kind from the report are simply false.”

The Department of Justice also noted in their report Shaw's e-mailed responses to reports on increasing court revenue. In March 2011, when police chief Tom Jackson reported that the court revenue in February was more than $179,000 and that it “beat our next biggest month in the last four years by over $17,000,” Shaw responded, “Wonderful!”

In January 2013, Jackson reported to him that the municipal court gross revenue the previous year passed $2 million for the first time ever, Shaw e-mailed in response, “Awesome! Thanks!”

In March 2012, the captain of the police department's patrol division reported that court collections the previous month reached $235,000, setting another record. The captain noted that the court clerk “girls have been swamped all day with a line of people paying off fines today. Since 9:30 this morning there hasn't been less than five people waiting in line for the last three hours 10 to 15 people at all times.” Shaw “enthusiastically reported the Captain's e-mail to the City Council and congratulated both police department and court staff on their 'great work,'” the Department of Justice report said.

The Department of Justice report noted that in 2012, Shaw “forwarded an e-mail that played upon stereotypes of Latinos, but within minutes of sending it, sent another e-mail to the recipient in which he stated he had not seen the offensive part of the e-mail and apologized for the 'inappropriate and offensive' message.

“Police and court staff took no such corrective action, and indeed in many instances expressed amusement at the offensive correspondence.”

Mayor James Knowles III said in a statement that he appreciated Shaw's service and commitment. “The city council and John Shaw feel that this is the appropriate time to move forward as we begin our search for a new city manager.”

Stephen Deere of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

Valerie Schremp Hahn is a features writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.