- Associated Press - Thursday, September 18, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon created a new government agency Thursday that’s tasked with addressing education, poverty and racial issues, weeks after the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black 18-year-old in Ferguson sparked sometimes-violent protests.

Nixon said the Office of Community of Engagement, created by an executive order, will lead discussions with residents and leaders from churches, businesses and community organizations. It also could recommend changes in state policies.

Tensions mounted after a white police officer shot and killed Michael Brown on Aug. 9 in Ferguson, a St. Louis suburb. In the days that followed, police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse crowds of protesters, including some who threw Molotov cocktails and rocks at officers.

Nixon chose former Democratic state Sen. Maida Coleman, of St. Louis, as director of the new office. He said former St. Louis Municipal Judge Marvin Teer will be the deputy director and general counsel.

“Across our state, Missouri communities are facing serious issues involving race, educational and economic opportunities, and poverty,” Nixon said in written statement. “Maida and Marvin will get to work immediately to listen, learn, and assess the challenges facing minority and low-income communities across the state, and help to develop specific policies to address them.”

The new office is expected to have an annual budget of about $400,000, with the money siphoned from the administrative allotments of a dozen other state agencies, said Linda Luebbering, the director of Nixon’s Office of Budget and Planning. The departments of Conservation, Elementary and Secondary Education, Higher Education and Transportation will be exempt from the money transfers.

The office likely will eventually have two or three employees in addition to Coleman and Teer, Luebbering said.

The new office could help communities such as Ferguson work through challenges in education and unemployment, but only if enough resources and staff are devoted to speaking with residents, said John Gaskin III, a member of the national board of directors of the NAACP and spokesman for the civil rights organization’s St. Louis County branch.

There is “the possibility that this could be a reaction to the community that has been so desperately calling for the governor to assist in any way he can,” Gaskin said. “This can be a step in the right direction if it is implemented in the right way.”

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Associated Press writer David A. Lieb contributed to this report.

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