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Citizen review board still a possibility

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In a special meeting the hour prior to its regular meeting, on Monday, Oct. 4, Village Council met with attorney Larry James to discuss the legality of the proposed Citizen Review Board, or CRB.

As part of the discussion, James asked several questions: what is the proposed budget?; what is the Village trying to fix?; and what powers will the CRB hold or share with other Village officials, including the police chief?

James, of Crabbe, Brown & James, is a litigator from Columbus. He served as General Counsel of the National Fraternal Order of Police and co-founded the African American Leadership Academy. The Village hired him because of his work with other municipalities in establishing CRBs.

In the proposal to Council, the CRB would have a budget of $45,000 per year, which would include the cost of running the CRB and retaining an attorney to help write the board’s decisions.

James outlined the dual purpose of a CRB: to prevent and to respond to police misconduct. If implemented, he said, the review board could meet quarterly or biannually to discuss policy and procedures but be able to react in a timely manner to complaints about specific interactions with officers.

“I have not seen entities your size do a civilian review board,” he said. “You may have the opportunity to do something unique because of your size.”

Council members and James also discussed the size and scope of the potential CRB. Following the proposal, the CRB would have 11 members. James suggested going smaller, using three to five members who serve three-year terms with a sunset of two to three terms. Considering what the CRB will look like, Council members discussed their vision for the board. Council Vice President Marianne MacQueen said she was not sure what Council was trying to fix given the small number of complaints.

“If people are afraid to go to the Chief or to Council, then how do we know what the complaints are?” she asked.

James’ response was that CRBs do not stop communities from criticizing the police, and that the number of complaints does not usually go down with the presence of a CRB.

Council President Brian Housh said he is in favor of being proactive and wanted to know how Council could use the CRB to build a better relationship between the community and the police.
“Bring the officers to the table,” James said. “Human dynamics is a process; if you bring the right people in the beginning, you’re going to have a good journey.”

Council member Kevin Stokes suggested that the CRB could be used as a tool to react to police misconduct, but James said that it would be better to be proactive.

“The luxury of trust cannot be stated strongly enough,” he said. “You don’t just want to be there for major infractions; by then it’s too late.”

Council members will discuss James’ report at their next meeting, Oct. 18.

Body cameras
Council voted down an emergency ordinance that would authorize Village Manager Josué Salmerón to apply for a grant to pay for body cameras for the Yellow Springs Police Department.

Salmerón said that this grant is part of Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s push to have law enforcement officers wearing body cameras. He said that the ordinance had to be written as emergency legislation because of the deadline for the grant application.

Village Solicitor Breanne Parcels said that Council would need to consider an ordinance passed in 2018. The ordinance says that before Council authorizes the purchase of any surveillance technology, it must have a usage policy in place, and the policy must be presented to citizens at a public hearing where citizens can give their input.

Villager Ellis Jacobs commented on concerns — not addressed in Ohio state law — that Village policymakers could include in their own best practices for body cameras. He said that changes to the Public Record Act limited what private citizens could request in terms of body camera footage.

“The Public Record Act is not about what police record and what the police have access to,” he said. “That’s what our policy will look for. There are concerns about balancing privacy and accountability.”

Council member Lisa Kreeger said she is in favor of body cameras, but she is hesitant to move forward with this ordinance.

“I’m concerned we aren’t following our own process,” she said.

Kreeger suggested that Council move forward with creating policy and then focus on acquiring grant funding.

Stokes said he was in favor of moving forward so that the Village would not be faced with an unfunded mandate for body cameras.

“That would be uncomfortable for us,” he said.

MacQueen echoed concerns about precedent raised by Kreeger, saying that it is “imperative that we have policy before we go after money.”

Greenspace resolution
Council passed a resolution “affirming Council’s commitment to working with citizens and the Yellow Springs school board to preserve greenspace at Mills Lawn.” The resolution is the result of an ongoing conversation about the fate of the Mills Lawn greenspace should the Yellow Springs School District no longer need to use it for a school and playground. In its Sept. 20 meeting, Council members voiced their support for maintaining the greenspace, but acknowledged that they could put their words in writing with a resolution.

Members Laura Curliss and Lisa Kreeger both voiced their support of the resolution, saying that the greenspace is important to both villagers and Council members. Curliss said she thought the resolution could go further to maintain the space by committing to rezoning the land as a conservation area.

“Mills Lawn isn’t like any other part of infill land. It’s like trying to develop a piece of the Glen,” she said. “It was my hope that this could be settled so that folks don’t have to worry, but that’s not what we can do at this point.”

MacQueen said that she was not comfortable voting on legislation because it may imply that Council is interfering with school board business.

“If the school board decides to let go of some of that property, I’m willing to engage in public processes,” she said.

Community member Mary Eby said that there needs to be a clear process and that community input has come through a petition to save the greenspace with over 500 signers “who are asking Council and the school board to come together to preserve this space.”

Eby asked if there was a possibility that Council could rezone the land for conservation or park space. Parcels explained that rezoning the land would have to be done by resolution and that “spot zoning” or zoning that is not contiguous is illegal per Ohio law.

The resolution was passed 4–1, with MacQueen being the only “no” vote.

Parking plan
At its Sept. 20 meeting, Council received a letter from the Downtown Business Association, or DBA, requesting that Council renew its efforts to create more parking for downtown businesses.

The letter cited a 2019 study commissioned by Council that offered suggestions for parking. One of the suggestions was to create angled parking around the Mills Lawn property.

In response, a group of villagers on Elm and Phillips streets wrote a letter asking Council to maintain the current parking spaces around Mills Lawn, claiming that “current parking options on the perimeter of Mills Lawn are more than adequate to meet demand.”

Michael Slaughter, one of the signers, said that the safety of nose-in parking is a concern. He also said that the current parking can hold up to 30 cars, but that he had “never, ever seen both of those sides filled up.” He suggested that the Village work with Mills Lawn to see if their parking lot could be made available on the weekends for businesses.

Business owners Jamie Sharp and Mark Heise said that Council should consider the seasonal nature of business in the village.

“September is a low business month,” Sharp explained.

Heise also requested that the conversation not become a dispute between business owners and residents, stating that he and other business owners also live in the village.

Nick Boutis thanked the DBA and Council for thinking about sustainability when considering parking.

“We are not going to make ourselves more sustainable by adding more parking lots,” he said.

Housh thanked everyone for their comments and said Council would use them to consider how to move forward.

“The input has been really helpful,” he said. “There’s also a commitment to continue the discussion and take some action.”

Police chief search
As part of his village manager’s report, Salmerón gave an update on the search for a new police chief to replace Chief Brian Carlson, who is leaving the position. Salmerón said the Village had received 30 applications that “have varied from across the state and across the county.” Salmerón also said he had reached out to 15 villagers and community leaders to be a part of the police chief search committee. As of the Council meeting, he said he had not received confirmation from everyone invited, but a group met to identify preliminary screening methods. The screening would help the committee evaluate candidates and decide on 15 for further evaluation.

“While we have 30 candidates, we are going to do our best to ensure we have several candidates that demonstrate a fit with our community,” he said. “If there’s any doubt, we are not afraid to open up the application process again.”

In other Council business, Oct. 4:
• Village Council members have planned three public meetings to discuss the 2022 budget. The first meeting was on Monday, Oct. 11. The next budget sessions are scheduled for Oct. 25 and Nov. 11.

• Council discussed reactions to the ordinance preventing housing discrimination based on source of income. They received several letters praising the legislation. To try to assuage concerns about the expense of bringing properties up to code, they said that property owners would not be required to make changes to their properties to be in compliance with this ordinance. If their properties do pass the Section 8 inspection, they cannot turn away Section 8 renters.

• Kreeger tried to address concerns about Yellow Springs Development Corporation and its involvement in the conversation about the Mills Lawn property. She said that there is no “dark money” involved in the donation that was passed from the Community Foundation to the YSDC to explore options for the building and adjacent greenspace. She stated that YSDC was asked to help by providing a forum for community conversations, which they agreed to do.

• Council discussed the downtown mask mandate, hearing comments from business owners who are hesitant to confront customers who are not complying with the mandate. MacQueen said she is in favor of adding signage with stronger language about the mandate, and Housh added that Council cannot help with issues around the “solidarity piece.”

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