JEFFERSON CITY - Just weeks following the chaos in Ferguson, Gov. Nixon signed an executive order creating a new office to deal with issues concerning low-income and minority communities found all across the state.
Gov. Nixon's Press Secretary Scott Holste said Ferguson was a contributing factor leading up to the executive order.
"Ferguson helped bring a number of issues to light and they are going to be addressed through many ways," Holste said. "Those events served as a reminder that there are many challenging issues that Missouri communities face and that Missourians need to have their voices heard about these important policy matters."
The Office of Community Engagement will help address those communities by initiating communication among Missourians and coming up with policy solutions. The office is also responsible for developing strategies to increase prosperity and opportunity for all citizens of Missouri.
Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis County, previously accused Nixon of inaction in the black community during the recent veto session.
"You've been in office for decades and you've done nothing for black people," Chapelle-Nadal said.
The Office "may make recommendations to the Department of Economic Development, Missouri Community Service Commission, Missouri Housing Development Commission and other boards, commissions and agencies that administer programs designed to assist low-income individuals, urban neighborhoods, community redevelopment and similar activities," according to a news release about the office.
Individuals may also be recommended by the Office for appointment to commissions, agencies and boards of the state.
"Across our state, Missouri communities are facing serious issues involving race, educational and economic opportunities, and poverty," Gov. Nixon was quoted as saying in a news release. "The Office of Community Engagement will be responsible for facilitating meaningful communication about these issues that will yield concrete results."
Nixon appointed former state Sen. Maida Coleman as the office's director, and former St. Louis City Municipal Judge Marvin Teer as the deputy director and general counsel.
"Maida and Marvin will get to work immediately to listen, learn, and assess the challenges facing minority and low-income communites across the state, and help to develop specific policies to address them," was quoted as saying in the release.
Teer said he is glad to be involved because he said he is eager to start making changes in Missouri communities.
"I'm excited because it's what government is supposed to do," Teer said. "It's government listening and learning, and rather than reacting or responding to a request from a citizen, to actually go out and engage communities to make things happen and make changes happen."
Coleman said she, too, is excited to start working with communites in Missouri.
"From small towns to big cities, every Missouri community faces its own unique challenges -- and that's especially true in areas where poverty rates are high and economic opportunites are limited," Coleman said in a news release. "That is why I am excited about this opportunity to deepen our understanding of the issues confronting our communities and to help develop policies that will help all Missourians prosper and thrive."
Teer said he will be pro-active as the deputy director and general counsel.
"I intend on being boots on the ground," Teer said. "I'm not going to be somebody who's gonna be stuck in an office or, at least, staying in an office. I want to be right there on the front line with everybody else, so I envision my role as being very hands-on in all of the projects and all of whatever mutual ventures we may have."
He said he plans to have a presence in communities all over the state before problems get worse or arise.
"My hope is that we can be pro-active, meaning before problems arise, we have done and had those critical conversations in communities from the Bootheel to Joplin, from Springfield to Troy, and all of the communities in between that if there's issues going on in your neighborhoods and your communities and your cities, then hopefully we can bring those resources, both public and private, collaborations, partnerships, and find real tangible solutions before problems do get worse or problems arise," Teer said.
The new deputy director said he wants the Office to be "a good sounding board and problem solver for all of the communities we come into contact with." The first thing on his to-do list, Teer said, is to meet with fellow leaders to discuss how actions will be taken.
"That's my biggest thing, that's one of the first things is to meet with all of the division directors and all of the department heads and let's put all our heads together to see all hands on deck," Teer said.
Holste said funding for the office will come from existing appropriations. He said Nixon will include separate funding for the office in his budget proposal he puts forth to the General Assembly in January. The Office will be housed within the Office of Administration.