A tad late, AVL City Council listens to the other side

By Leslee Kulba – Last week’s coverage of local government meetings only scratched the surface of council’s procedural overrides bulldozing Patrick Conant’s radical agenda for police transparency.

This story covers Act III, in which members of council considered items for their legislative agenda that Councilman Vijay Kapoor asked be vetted via committee before being sprung to a vote, without public notice, by Mayor Esther Manheimer two meetings ago. As was previously mentioned, the vetting committee consisted of Manheimer and Councilors Keith Young and Sheneika Smith, who were already bent on steamrolling Conant’s nine-point agenda.

The discussion began with Kapoor questioning how the discoveries of a citizens’ police review board with powers of subpoena would weave into internal and criminal investigations. That is, if the various review boards were to reach different conclusions, who would have final say? City Attorney Robin Currin responded that the concept had been taken from a state bill that had not yet been vetted, so this was likely but one contradiction to resolve.

Kapoor said he could support the first measure, to challenge existing personnel laws and allow complainants to know disciplinary actions taken in response to complaints they file, and the second, to allow city council to review bodycam footage; but replacing the city’s Civil Service Board with a citizens’ review board went too far. The people on city council advocating for the change did not represent a jury of a law-enforcement officer’s peers, and a board of citizen activists they appoint was not likely to, either. He said if council did not like the way the department heads were handling personnel matters, the only proper recourse they had was to hire a city manager with priorities more to their liking.

Councilor Julie Mayfield and Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler agreed the best solution was probably some middle ground. Young insinuated Wisler and Mayfield were novices for considering the elimination of the Civil Service Board radical, even though all three joined the board in 2015. He gave council an I-told-you-so, lamenting it took “something large [to] blow up in the community” for anybody to listen.

At the late hour, council finally opened the floor to hear cautionary advice and opposing data leaders of public safety organizations from throughout the region had hoped would inform council’s previous decisions. President of the Asheville Fire Fighters Association Scott Mullins apologized for appearing in full regalia, but he had been in Raleigh that morning, on one of his weekly trips to fight council’s proposed legislation. The city’s Civil Service Board, he said, was established in 1953 to protect the rights of all city employees and citizens. Young would later jeer at the racism implicit in believing the rights of all citizens were protected in 1953.

Brandon McGaha, representing the Southern States Police Benevolent Association, said his organization has a lobby in Raleigh, and they will oppose any action the city takes to infringe due process for civil servants. Sgt. Diana Loveland, a veteran with the Asheville Police Department, criticized the city for posting outdated, conflicting policies on its website. She then asked how police officers were supposed to trust members of city council or their appointees to give them a fair hearing when council has shown how it cherry-picks its data, and it was a city council member who leaked video footage on social media to promote his own political agenda.

Rondell Lance, president of Asheville’s Fraternal Order of Police, cautioned that publicizing personnel matters can drag an innocent officer’s name through the mud, and dealing with citizens looking to frame officers is, for police departments, part of the routine. Council was saying nobody can trust the city manager and nobody can trust the police chief, so why should anybody trust city council? Lance said the Civil Service Board exists to hold members of council accountable, and so he could see why they would want to do away with it. In the 3-5 cases that are appealed each year, the courts have always sided with the Civil Service Board.

Later in the meeting, Rick Tullis of the APD and the state PBA showed how maps of hot spots for violent crime and police stops and searches were nearly identical. The department, he said, was trying to interdict crime, and traffic stops were one of the best tools they had.

A couple speakers indicated some legislation council was seeking had already been ruled unconstitutional. Buncombe County Sheriff Van Duncan was among many who couldn’t stay until 11pm. And Conant, the force majeure behind council’s push for police reform, said he would encourage people to use ncmegaphone.com to flood legislators with advocacy for his and council’s legislative agenda.

Council approved advancing the first two measures to the lobbyist, but the third, unable to win the support of Kapoor, Wisler, and Mayfield, is now but a “discussion-opener.”

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