Guardsmen stand in front the Ferguson Police Department Municipal Court bulding on November 25, 2014.
Ferguson, Missouri, officials announced Wednesday night that City Manager John Shaw is resigning in response to last week’s Justice Department report, which found that the city unfairly targeted black residents in an effort to raise money from fines for low-level municipal offenses. The New York Times reports that during a City Council meeting, officials distributed a letter in which Shaw said he was stepping down, and the Council’s seven members voted unanimously to approve a “mutual separation agreement.” Shaw, who was not present, wrote, “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 also defended his actions in the page-long letter, saying:
And while I certainly respect the work that the D.O.J. 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.
While Shaw, who has been city manager since 2007, has not been a prominent figure in the conflict following the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown last summer, he was the most powerful official in Ferguson (as the Associated Press notes, Mayor James Knowles III only works part-time and earns less than $5,000 a year). His duties included overseeing every city department, including the police department, and recommending department heads, who were then subject to approval by the City Council.
The DOJ report includes numerous examples of Shaw encouraging police officials to continue generating revenue by ticketing motorists. At one point he responded to a Council member’s complaints about the municipal judge (who resigned yesterday) by saying the city “cannot afford to lose any efficiency in our courts, nor experience any decrease in our fines and forfeitures.”
Shaw is the fifth Ferguson official to step down in the last week. Mayor Knowles said the city will conduct a nationwide search for his replacement. He thanked Shaw for his eight years of service, but said, “We wanted to move forward as a community.”