Residents, City Council discuss appointment of liaisons to police oversight commission

Tuesday, December 18, 2018 - 1:36am

Councilmember Julie Grand, D-Ward 3

Councilmember Julie Grand, D-Ward 3 Buy this photo
Matt Vailliencourt/Daily

Ann Arbor City Councilmembers and city residents discussed efforts to fill liaison positions to the Independent Community Police Oversight Commission at a City Council meeting Monday night. City Council passed a resolution to hire a full-time employee working under City Administrator Howard Lazarus to provide administrative support, and defeated an amendment to remove Councilmember Jane Lumm, I-Ward 2, from her role as liaison to the commission.

In October, following months of debate, City Council unanimously passed an ordinance crafted by Mayor Christopher Taylor to create an advisory body to review complaints against the Ann Arbor Police Department and issue recommendations regarding its practices. Drawing on a competing proposal from a citizen-led task force, as well as recommendations from Lazarus and the city attorney’s office, the adopted ordinance sought to address legal gray areas relating to the city charter and the AAPD’s collective bargaining agreement. The civilian proposal was voted down in favor of the mayor’s ordinance.

Sargeant Donovan-Smith, a doctoral student in anthropology and history at the University of Michigan, accused Lazarus of being “obstructive” in the process of establishing the police oversight commission.

“He is not competent to do this work and he should not oversee a full-time employee months ahead of a commission being empaneled,” Donovan-Smith said. “That person would report to him, violating any attempt to have an independent oversight board.”

Lazarus said liaisons often work with commissions that disagree with his office on various issues, and a commission being “independent minded” does not change the quality of service it receives.

“In none of those cases have we done anything other than provide the absolute best support to the commissions,” Lazarus said. “We are all committed to the provisions that are in the ordinance and we are all committed to ensuring that the Ann Arbor Police Department is a leader in changing the way policing of communities is done.”

Only Councilmember Jack Eaton, D-Ward 4, voted against the measure. He said he did so not because he did not want the position filled, but because he felt it would be “premature” to hire someone to provide administrative support before the police oversight commission had been seated.

Councilmember Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5, echoed Eaton’s concerns, but voted for the resolution. He said he believed having someone to support the commission logistically would help ensure its success.

“The commission and the HRC [Human Rights Commission] deserve the administrative support that this liaison would provide, so I think not having one poses a bigger threat than having the commission not assembled yet and having [a liaison] put on,” Ramlawi said.

Lori Saginaw, who co-chaired the civilian task force, called on the city to be more transparent in adopting the ordinance, particularly in regard to the application process.

“The application form, the announcement saying it’s time to apply, the job description, who will receive the applications, who will offer an interview as an alternative to a written application, who will do the final role of vetting — all of this detail wants to be handled so that the public can easily understand it all, know it and hopefully weigh in on it,” Saginaw said. “To do it any other way is unacceptable and it’s a betrayal of our trust in those we elected.”

In response, councilmember Julie Grand, D-Ward 3, said the four councilmembers overseeing the selection process were working closely with the HRC in soliciting and reviewing applications.

“The HRC will certainly make a recommendation to the four of us who will be making the ultimate recommendation to council,” Grand said. “I can only speak for myself personally, but I will take those recommendations very seriously, and it’s not the only group I hope to hear from.”

The ordinance allows for two members of City Council to be appointed to the commission. Lumm and Zach Ackerman, D-Ward 3, were appointed two weeks ago to serve in those roles. Donovan-Smith called on City Council to remove Lumm from the position.

“I would ask you to start over, to get Lumm off the task force tonight and really rethink the approach you’re taking,” Donovan-Smith said. “New members: Step up, don’t compromise.”

Lumm has been critical of certain aspects of the citizen task force’s proposal. At a City Council meeting Oct. 1, Lumm said she opposed the preamble of the ordinance, which declared that “law enforcement officers, across the nation, have historically defended and enforced racism and segregation.” Lumm said if the citizen task force proposal had been adopted she would have either moved to eliminate or change the preamble, drawing boos from the audience.

“I have a tremendous amount of respect for the high quality, well-trained police force we have in Ann Arbor and the professional job that they do,” Lumm said. “In my view, the preamble as written in the task force ordinance is not balanced, objective or appropriate, and it is unnecessarily hostile.”

The adopted ordinance moderated that language, but still noted that “policing has been used as a mechanism for social control by means including racial bias, disparities in police use of force, and the impacts of officer-involved shootings and other violent encounters with law enforcement officers,” concluding that “this fact, combined with ongoing racial discrimination in America today, creates distrust and tension between marginalized populations and law enforcement.”

Eaton sponsored a resolution to reconsider council appointments to various commissions, including Lumm’s appointment to the police oversight board. Eaton said he proposed replacing Lumm with recently-elected Councilmember Elizabeth Nelson, D-Ward 4, in response to public feedback.

“This process that we’ve spent this much time on really requires considerable buy-in from our public, especially those who put so much time and effort into the process, and it was at their urging that I’m offering this particular amendment to the appointment to the oversight commission,” Eaton said. “It’s nothing personal from me. I believe that what we want is we want buy-in from the community and this is my step in that direction.”

Nelson said while the veteran councilmembers had been through the entirety of the process leading up to the adoption of the ordinance, she was invested in the police oversight commission as well.

“This is not a casual interest for me,” Nelson said. “I appreciate, in light of just who I am, I cannot posture expertise and personal experience in the issues this commission is going to wrestle with, but I just wanted to say that my interest in this is sincere.”

The resolution to replace Lumm was defeated by a wide margin. Taylor spoke in support of Lumm’s appointment to the commission, saying he had “full confidence in her.”

“The commission’s success is important to the community,” Taylor said. “It’s important to everybody that comes into Ann Arbor. It’s important to our police officers and our entire department. I believe Councilmember Lumm will be an important, successful part of that commission.”