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New Year’s Eve investigation costs rising

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At their Feb. 21 meeting, Village Council members addressed a recent invoice submitted by Dayton Attorney David Williamson, who is conducting the independent investigation into the New Year’s Eve incident that pitted local police against citizens. According to the report from Village Manager Patti Bates, Williamson submitted an invoice for $45,311.24 for his efforts, and those of his assistant, from Jan. 6 through Feb. 15.

CBE, NYE discussions

A community conversation on the property formerly known as the CBE will take place Thursday, March 2, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Bryan Center Rooms A and B.

The results of the independent investigation into the New Year’s Eve Ball Drop incident will be the focus of  Council’s regular meeting on Monday, March 6, at 7 p.m. at the Bryan Center gym.

The invoice was submitted after several villagers expressed concern about the rising cost of the investigation at a special meeting Feb. 6 at which investigation results were expected to be delivered. At that meeting Williamson said the report wasn’t yet concluded, and that he didn’t have the necessary information to estimate the cost at that time. The cost will rise further, as Williamson is continuing to investigate, and is expected to submit a finished report several days before Council’s March 6 meeting.

At the Feb. 21 meeting, Council member Judith Hempfling apologized to the community for what she said was a lack of direction from Council to Williamson, which contributed to the considerable expense of the investigation.

“We didn’t give the guidance we should have given,” Hempfling said, stating that Council needs to decide on a process in similar situations so that “we don’t end up rushing forward.”

Council President Karen Wintrow agreed, stating that, “We didn’t manage this well.” However, she said, Council was motivated by the need to get quick answers given the high level of citizen concern following the incident, during which many villagers felt local police acted in a manner that was hostile and aggressive. She also stated that the finished investigation will be an important document  that “will help move us forward to the kind of police department we want.”

According to Bates’ report, the investigation up through Feb. 15 included 42 interviews, including 32 with citizens, eight with Village personnel and two with former chiefs; reviews of three dash cam videos and several body cam videos; reviews of “numerous” personal videos from the cellphones of those who attended the event; reviews of relevant sections of the Ohio Revised Code and the police department’s General Operations Manual and the Village Personnel Policy Manual; and “numerous” talks with Council members and the Village manager.

The final investigation report will be the focus of Council’s upcoming March 6 meeting, which will be held in the Bryan Center gym.

In a separate written report regarding local police, Interim Police Chief Brian Carlson stated the department is moving ahead with new measures aimed at improving its relationship with the community.

In April, the officers will begin taking walks around the village with villagers and Antioch College students, the purpose of which is “to not only build relationships, but to share stories of Yellow Springs and offer introductions to friends and family, helping us achieve our goal of building stronger connections and community,” Carlson wrote.

In an interview last week, Carlson said he’s especially looking for longtime villagers to walk with the officers, to help them learn about Yellow Springs. Interested persons can contact him at 937-767-7206.

In a second new initiative, the department will next week hold the first of three six-hour training sessions, this one with a focus on de-escalation. The trainer will be Bill Parsons, former night school commander at the Sinclair College Ohio Peace Officer Basic Training Academy. Parsons is a mentor and friend, said Carlson, who graduated from the Sinclair program.

“He’s a master at de-escalation,” Carlson said.

In a third initiative, the department is adding to its performance evaluations a category that measures the number of times an officer interacts with community members. Currently, officers are mainly evaluated on the number of warnings, citations and criminal cases they initiate, but not on how they engage in a friendly way with the community.

“We don’t have anything on our evaluations about, how many people did you help?” Carlson said.

In the report, Carlson also announced the return to the department of former officers Lucianna Lieff and Stephanie Bennington (formerly Spurlock), both of whom he described as having been “a perfect fit” for the village when previously employed by the department.

All in all, the department is doing its best to address concerns about police aggressiveness and dis-engagement from the community that culminated in the New Year’s Eve Ball Drop incident between police and villagers.

“Change will happen one encounter at a time,” Carlson said in the interview. “Building trust with people will happen slowly, but it will happen.”

In other Council Feb. 21 business:

• During a continuing discussion on Council’s 2017 goals, Council members resumed their previous discussion of adding “affordability” to the list of Village goals. At a previous meeting, Hempfling had suggested that Council add “affordability” as a new goal in light of last year’s increases in utility rates and a new landlord law. At the Feb. 21 meeting, Marianne MacQueen suggested that Council make affordability a Village “value” or a “meta goal,” so that Council members examine all relevant Village goals in light of how they affect cost of living in the village.

“We would institutionalize how every goal is impacting affordability,” she stated.

At the Feb. 21 meeting, Hempfling also suggested that Council meet with the Yellow Springs school board and the Miami Township Trustees to discuss the effects on affordability of levies that further impact local taxes. Both groups have stated that they are looking to put new levies on the ballot in May.

“There’s always a good reason for these levies, but the more we have, the harder it is for people to live here,” she said. Council members agreed to add affordability as one of the village’s overarching “values.” 

Council will further discuss and vote on 2017 goals at its March 20 meeting.

• Hempfling also suggested that Council look into having the Village become a “sanctuary city,” in the light of President Trump’s recent efforts to restrict immigration and deport illegal immigrants. According to MacQueen, the Human Relations Commission will bring a sanctuary city proposal to Council soon.

• Villager MJ Gentile requested that the Village close its account with US Bank, which currently holds 43 percent of Village investments. The request is tied to recent protests around the US Bank’s investment in companies that are funding the Dakota Access Pipeline, an issue that has captivated many villagers who care about environmental sustainability and native American rights.

“You could help spark a movement of courageous people,” Gentile said.

MacQueen, who has previously expressed support for the change, will bring a resolution regarding the Village divestment to Council’s next meeting.

• Council unanimously approved a resolution that provides a 2 percent wage increase to all Village hourly employees. 

• Council unanimously approved a resolution recognizing the contributions of Central Chapel AME Church in past celebrations of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The longtime site of the community MLK Day event is now considered too small for the event’s customary large crowds, which this year was celebrated at the Antioch College Foundry Theater.

• Council unanimously approved a resolution that recognizes “the importance of building awareness and appreciation of Black history 365 days a year” rather than just during February, which is Black History Month. 

“It’s time we start looking at black history as American history and celebrate it every day,” Council member Gerald Simms said.

• Council briefly discussed its upcoming annual retreat, which is scheduled for April 24 at Antioch University Midwest.

• Brian Housh reminded villagers of the first community meeting on the CBE land, which will take place Thursday, March 2, at Bryan Center Rooms A and B. 

Council’s next regular meeting is Monday, March 6, at 7 p.m. at the Bryan Center gym.

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