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Villagers give feedback on citizen review board

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In their regular meeting on Monday, Oct. 18, Council members dedicated time to hear public feedback on their Oct. 4 meeting with Larry James, the attorney Council hired to review the proposal for a citizen review board, or CRB. Council President Brian Housh said that he added this as an agenda item because there was no time for citizen comments during the hour-long presentation on Oct. 4.

During the Oct. 4 discussion, James spoke on the benefits of a CRB as a tool for both police accountability and oversight. He said that the CRB could be proactive about the department’s policy, but also be there to mitigate concerns about police misconduct.

James also suggested that the CRB have three to five members, rather than the proposed 11. As a response to the estimated $45,000 per year budget for the CRB, he said that individual members of the CRB should not be paid for their work, but that the budget would cover any attorney’s fees accrued during police misconduct investigations.

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Several commenters said they were in favor of moving forward with the CRB as proposed, rather than accepting the changes that James suggested. Gyamfi Gyamerah asked about the process for selecting James as the reviewer of the plan.

“Larry [James] represented the police for most of his career,” he said. “There’s a conservative agenda behind all of this.”

Gyamerah then suggested that having a CRB will place police officers and citizens on an equal footing that will engender more trust than the current power dynamic. He also questioned Council’s reluctance to fund the CRB, saying that it seemed “like Black people aren’t important enough to spend money on.”

Louise Smith, who helped craft the CRB, said that she was concerned with Council’s “wrong-headed protection of the budget.”

“We worked thoughtfully over four months on the proposal,” she said. “I want Council to commit to a process with citizen input. If it can’t be at the behest of Council and Village management, I want something that will work well and work for the people.”

Bomani Moyenda, who worked on the CRB proposal, focused his comment on what he called the “trap” of thinking of Yellow Springs as a place where negative encounters between police and citizens do not happen. He said that keeping the status quo can result in tragic incidents, citing a recent encounter in Dayton where officers dragged a paraplegic man from his car.

“We fell into that trap and it led to the New Year’s Eve incident a few years ago,” he said. “ This is an opportunity for Yellow Springs to present and represent what we truly claim to be. I hope we are able to institute the CRB as we recommended.”

John Hempfling described how he was initially skeptical of a CRB, but has hope that implementing one will help people who have complaints about officers. He said that as a former member of the Justice System Task Force, he felt frustration with the lack of power the task force had to investigate complaints.

“Our job was to research best practices,” Hempfling said. “The irony is if they had told me a story about an officer that didn’t violate policy I could make recommendations to change policy.”

He concluded that a CRB that could both write policy and handle complaints “makes a lot of sense.”

After hearing comments from citizens, Council members responded. Housh said that Council did not select Larry James, but that he was recommended by Ellis Jacobs and Village Solicitor Breanne Parcels. Housh also said that he “didn’t get what he wanted from the legal review” and that he had more questions.

“My concern is not about the investment of funds, but that we are addressing the concerns we want to address,” he said.

Council Vice President Marianne MacQueen said that she was happy with James’ presentation, but that she had more questions.

“Having a place to make complaints is important, but what is more effective is that this body can impact police policies and practices,” she said. “ I really hope we can involve him in getting it set up as effectively as possible.”

Council member Laura Curliss said that James’ presentation gave a “nice, broad overview” of what a CRB could be. As far as the budget, she said that she wanted to model the CRB on other commissions.

“We modeled the citizen part after the mediation program where there are volunteers but the coordinator gets a stipend because there was a lot of work,” Curliss said. “I think there’s more work to be done and I look forward to doing it.”

In other Council business, Oct. 18:

Council received an update on the Climate Sustainability Action Plan from Piper Fernwey, the program’s coordinator. Fernwey reported that there has been good public involvement, and that there are currently 15 community members who are working on six committees that are addressing seven domains: energy, transportation, buildings, native habitats, water, local food and waste reduction. Each domain will work toward five underlying values of the plan: equity, empowerment, education, economy and evolution.

Fernwey said that Council’s resolution to join Power a Clean Future Ohio has allowed her to utilize resources that will move the project forward and align local projects with state and national movements. She has also launched a Sustainability Champions project that focuses on smaller projects around the village. In response to a question from MacQueen, Fernwey said that the

Village can help by prioritizing the projects coming out of the program.

“As the keepers of information, [Council’s] involvement in this process is crucial,” she said.
Council thanked Fernwey for the update, saying that they look forward to hearing more about the plan’s development. Council Member Stokes commended her work so far, saying that she has done a lot in a short amount of time.

“I’ve seen her in other venues, but she seems to be accomplishing a lot,” he said. “I want to encourage [her] and look forward to supporting [her].”

Council’s next meeting will be held remotely via Zoom on Nov. 1, 2021.

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