Gov. Jay Nixon on Tuesday swore in the 16 members of the Ferguson Commission: a mix of lawyers, CEOs, former and current police officials and educators — along with one 20-year-old protester.
Nixon created the commission to address the “social and economic conditions” highlighted by protests after the killing of Michael Brown by Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9.
At least one member of the commission, Felicia Pulliam, lives in Ferguson. She is development director at Focus St. Louis and was an adjunct criminal justice professor at St. Louis Community College. Another member, Scott Negwer, owns the Ferguson-based Negwer Materials.
Some of the appointees were selected by the governor from a pool of more than 300 people who applied. Nixon introduced them Tuesday afternoon at the Missouri History Museum.
The co-chairmen of the commission are the Rev. Starsky Wilson, president and CEO of the Deaconess Foundation and pastor of St. John’s United Church of Christ in St. Louis, and Rich McClure, chairman of the St. Louis Regional Board of Teach for America, and former president of UniGroup Inc. and of Civic Progress.
McClure was also chief of staff for former Missouri Gov. John Ashcroft.
“Change of this magnitude is hard,” Nixon said. “But maintaining the status quo is simply not acceptable.”
One community activist, Phillip Duvall, criticized the makeup of the commission, saying it “has too many established people on it.”
Duvall applied to serve on the commission and was interviewed by Nixon’s representatives for about an hour a few weeks ago. On Monday, he said he learned that he was one of 60 finalists, but was not selected. Duvall, a former pastor of churches in north St. Louis and west St. Louis County, said he wanted more voices of dissent represented.
“I am going to have a hard time selling the commission now to people who are disenfranchised because I can’t give them anybody they can identify with,” he said.
The commission includes 10 men and 6 women; nine are black, seven are white. One African-American member, Brittany Packnett, the executive director of Teach for America in St. Louis, wrote in an Aug. 14 blog post that “racism killed” Brown. She also wrote how, as a child, her brother watched police throw her father, a pastor and college professor, against the hood of his car and beat him.
“My brother was 5,” Packnett wrote.
Nixon announced the formation of the commission last month. He has said it was not an attempt to prepare the community for the possibility that Wilson won’t face charges at the state or federal level. A St. Louis County grand jury is weighing whether to indict Wilson.
That decision is expected any day.
On Monday, Nixon declared a state of emergency and called up the Missouri National Guard to help deal with reaction to the grand jury’s decision.
The commission’s youngest member, protester Rasheen Lamont Aldridge Jr., said he did not support calling up the guard.
“We have been peaceful this long,” Aldridge said. “I don’t think it’s going to get that out of hand.”
But he said it was important for protesters to be “in every spot” to help change the system.
Nixon said the commission will have “the full authority of my office.” He expects the group to issue a report no later than Sept. 15, 2015.
That deadline does not prohibit the commission from making recommendations in the meantime.
“We are not going to be waiting for a year,” said Wilson, the co-chairman, adding that the commission would take advantage of opportunities “even during this legislative session.”
Five commission members do not appear on a list of applicants supplied to the Post-Dispatch by the governor’s office two weeks ago. Those are McClure; Daniel Isom, Missouri’s director of public safety and a former St. Louis police chief; St. Louis Police Sgt. Kevin Ahlbrand, deputy commander of the Major Case Squad of Greater St. Louis; Becky James-Hatter, president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri; and Rose A. Windmiller, an assistant vice chancellor at Washington University.
Channing Ansley, a spokeswoman for Nixon, said that some members were selected based on recommendations.
Notable candidates who also applied for the commission but weren't selected included: Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III; Charles Jaco, a former television reporter and anchor; Chris Nicastro, outgoing Missouri commissioner of elementary and secondary education; Lewis Reed, president of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen; and Shelley Welsch, University City mayor.
Also on Tuesday, the Missouri Development Finance Board approved a $100,000 grant for the Ferguson Commission. The lone dissenter on the board was Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder.
Kinder said similar studies have been done since the 1960s. He doesn’t think this one, which “will gather dust on lots of shelves, will be an important part of the solution to Ferguson.”
Additional funding for the commission will be sought through private contributions.
Missouri Department of Economic Development Director Mike Downing, who also is on the finance board, has said the commission could need as much as $1 million to complete its mission. He did not provide details.
Alex Stuckey of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.