Ann Arbor City Council votes down citizen-led police oversight board
Ann Arbor City Council voted down an ordinance introduced by three councilmembers Monday night establishing a citizen-led police oversight board, instead voting to move forward with a counter-ordinance offered by Mayor Christopher Taylor.
More than 100 Ann Arbor residents attended the meeting at City Hall, which lasted past midnight. When the task force’s ordinance failed, the remaining audience members walked out, chanting, “Who do you protect? Who do you serve?” at councilmembers. Supporters of the task force’s proposal argued Taylor’s proposal was “watered down” and “toothless.”
Taylor said he proposed his ordinance to encapsulate the recommendations of the citizen task force while still complying with city and state law, as well as the police department’s collective bargaining agreement.
“We need a commission that provides a place for people to come to express their concerns about policing in Ann Arbor … People have a right to be confident in policing,” Taylor said. “I proposed the ordinance because I want to form a strong, defensible policing commission that will affect public trust.”
Councilmembers Anne Bannister, D-Ward 1, Jack Eaton, D-Ward 4, and Sumi Kailasapathy, D-Ward 1, introduced the ordinance written by members of a citizen task force. While Eaton and Bannister voted in favor of the mayor’s proposal “to get the ball rolling,” Kailasapathy was the only councilmember who voted against it, saying she was counting on the new incoming council members to support the task force’s version of the ordinance.
“I’m really upset with how this whole thing has changed direction,” Kailasapathy said.
Councilmember Jane Lumm, I-Ward 2, voted against the task force’s ordinance and in favor of Taylor’s proposal.
“Mayor’s version of the ordinance includes much of what was in the task force’s proposed ordinance but eliminates those provisions that are potentially problematic and in conflict with the city charter, collective bargaining agreements and operational practices,” Lumm said.
The task force was originally appointed to offer recommendations for the formation of a police oversight board. Taylor said while the body “did in fact do strong work,” he could not support the ordinance because he worried parts of it were not legally sound.
Both proposals call for an 11-member body appointed by City Council to review the conduct of Ann Arbor police officers and investigate complaints from city residents, but concerns arose about the legality of certain provisions in relation to the city charter and the police department’s collective bargaining agreement.
Kailasapathy, who co-sponsored the task force’s ordinance, said the process surrounding the formation of citizen task force’s proposal was the most democratic she had seen in her six years on City Council.
“I’m really proud to bring this up because this is yours,” Kailasapathy said to supporters in attendance Monday evening. “It’s what the residents have told us,” adding the ordinance was “not anti-police,” but rather “pro-safety.”
While the mayor’s proposal and the task force’s ordinance both preserved anonymity for complainants and clarified that no city councilmember or active duty police officer will sit on the oversight board, Taylor’s differed in its appointment of independent counsel and provisions regarding concurrent investigations by the board and the Ann Arbor Police Department.
The mayor’s proposal diverged from the vision of the citizen task force in giving the mayor more power over the appointment process as well. In Taylor’s version, the mayor would be responsible for appointing members to the oversight board, while the citizen task force proposed the oversight board itself and the Human Rights Commission should create a list of possible members that would be appointed by City Council.
While the citizen task force sought to award the oversight board subpoena power, a memo from City Attorney Stephen K. Postema noted “significant legal issues with subpoenaing residents of the City, City employees, or police officers” because the city charter does not grant City Council subpoena power. Postema maintained Council’s lack of subpoena power implies its power to the commission is questionable.
Additionally, Postema’s memo cast doubt on the the commission’s ability to retain independent counsel, an issue that led to worries of conflicts of interest during the September work session. The memo stated a commission created by City Council “has no authority to contract with outside legal counsel on its own.”
The Police Officers Association of Michigan sent a letter to Taylor opposing the citizen task force’s ordinance, calling the “blatant lack of trust” for the AAPD “unconscionable.” POAM did so in an effort to “protect Ann Arbor police officers from the venom which this proposed ordinance spews,” saying, “The proposed ordinance lacks moral justification and lacks legal authority.”
The ordinance introduced by Taylor will move forward to a second reading at the City Council meeting on Oct. 15, where funding for fiscal year 2019 will also be discussed.