Ann Arbor City Council announced 11 nominees to the new Independent Community Police Oversight Commission at the council meeting Monday. This comes after citizens expressed concern regarding the transparency of the selection process.
The individuals were selected from a pool of 62 applicants, many prominent members of the Ann Arbor community. Among the nominees are David Santacroce, a clinical professor of law at the University of Michigan; Robin Stephens, a Washtenaw County public defender; Bonnie Billups, executive director of Peace Neighborhood Center; and Kerene Moore, an attorney for the nonprofit Legal Services of South Central Michigan. Other nominees include DeAndre Caldwell, Zaynab Elkolaly, Mashod Evans, Frances Todoro-Hargreaves, Lisa Jackson, Mohammad Othman, and Jude Walton. City Council will vote to confirm the 11 nominees March 18.
Calls for the creation of a police oversight commission were heightened after incidents of police brutality and the 2014 shooting death of Aura Rosser by an Ann Arbor police officer. City Council unanimously passed a resolution to establish a police oversight board in October.
Councilmembers Julie Grand, D-Ward 3, and Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5, who serve as liaisons to the Human Rights Commission, were in charge of the selection process, along with Councilmembers Jane Lumm, I-Ward 2, and Zachary Ackerman, D-Ward 3, who will serve as liaisons to the police oversight commission.
Citizens have expressed concerns over the transparency of the selection process at previous council meetings leading up to the announcement of the nominees. The four councilmembers involved with the nominations faced controversy at a February council meeting when they introduced an amendment that would allow the council to waive the restriction requiring former and current city employees to wait a period of five years after their term before they are able to serve on a committee.
Grand attempted to clarify the intent of the amendment at the meeting, stating its purpose was to allow temporary and seasonal city employees, like election workers, the chance to apply to serve on the commission. Despite assurances from councilmembers that the language of the amendment would be more clearly defined, some residents remained skeptical.
Ann Arbor resident Rebecca Arends shared several concerns with the selection process for the nominees. Arends remains unconvinced of the councilmembers’ alleged intent behind proposing a resolution waiving the city employment restriction for nominees.
“Before the first 11 were even seated, they wanted to create an exception for city employees to serve, which is a glaring conflict of interest,” Arends said. “Secondly, there was no transparency about the rubric in which they chose these candidates."
Arends said she is also concerned that four non-Ann Arbor residents are among the nominees. The councilmembers involved with the process stated that though some nominees do not reside in the city, all of the nominees have ties to the Ann Arbor community.
“They want non-residents to serve on this commission,” Arends said. “They sent out rejection letters to a multitude of people even before the other councilmembers approved the initial 11.”
Arends added she has personally never had anything but positive experiences with the Ann Arbor police department. Arends said instead, her mistrust lies in how the councilmembers handled the nomination process.
“If they’re not going to do it with integrity and respect for the wishes of the community, then don’t bother even having an independent community police oversight commission,” Arends said. “It’s worse than if they would’ve done nothing at all.”
Ann Arbor resident Lefiest Galimore echoed Arends’ statements and disagreed with the council’s decision to allow non-residents to serve on the commission.
“I thought it was a citizen committee for citizens of Ann Arbor to deal with issues within their community,” Galimore said. “Apparently, there are a couple of people who do not live in the city of Ann Arbor.”
Galimore, a longtime resident who is a community organizer, applied to the ICPOC but was not chosen. Galimore said he is not upset he was not selected for the commission but remains disturbed with how councilmembers conducted the nomination process.
Once the candidates are approved by the council at their upcoming meeting, their appointments will be staggered. Nominees will serve either one, two, or three-year terms.
Nominee Moore is a U-M alum and has served on the Ann Arbor Human Rights Commission. Moore wrote in an email that her primary inspiration for serving on the ICPOC is to give back to the community.
“I hope ICPOC will be an avenue for improving community-police relations,” Moore wrote. “For example, there was a great policy discussion at the Ford School where experts discussed concrete changes that law enforcement could make to reduce racial bias in responding to calls. It’s great to see law enforcement actively engage these issues. I would like for the larger community to be a part of that conversation and I believe that ICPOC can be an avenue for that.”
Addressing the diversity of the group of nominees, Moore wrote she believes that the group is varied and each individual brings different skills to the table.
“Council had an amazing talent pool to pull from,” Moore said. “No commission make-up is perfectly representative, but my hope is that we will be able to build the public trust needed to pursue the commission's duties.”
Elkolaly, a senior at Washtenaw Technical Middle College, is the youth nominee and a member of the Washtenaw Youth Initiative, a group focused on comprehensive gun control, mental health awareness and human rights. Elkolaly said she was inspired to serve on the commission after learning about incidents of police brutality in Ann Arbor.
“Ann Arbor is a very white, liberal town, and we are not immune to police brutality, but we refuse to acknowledge incidents of police brutality for what they really are,” Elkolaly said. “There’s a lot of issues of racial justice, or lack thereof. I want to fix them so that my children don’t have to deal with them.”
Elkolaly said though she is biased as a selected candidate, she feels the steps of the nomination process were made very clear. However, she understood why residents might be concerned with the transparency of the process.
“Julie Grand made it very clear at a City Council meeting exactly what the criteria were and how they decided,” Elkolaly said. “Although there can always be more transparency, in this case, I don’t think there’s a disgusting lack of it to the point where people should be protesting.”
Elkolaly said she is very excited to be nominated as a woman of color and hopes she will be able to serve the residents of Ann Arbor.
“I am excited to officially serve the citizens of the city as a 17-year-old Muslim woman,” Elkolaly said. “I was always told that I would never be able to be in the government or run for office, and this opportunity is basically a dream come true.”