In one of its first actions, Charlottesville’s Police Civilian Review Board voted to jettison the bylaws and ordinance approved by the City Council in favor of the structure presented by an initial board.
The board held its first meeting virtually on Monday and took swift action to embrace the bylaws and ordinance presented by the initial panel.
“We’ve had two years, just about, of intense hard work of a lot of folks in the community,” said board member Nancy Carpenter. “It was given to us the purview to decide which version of the bylaws we wanted to operate under, and I think the community spoke through the initial board in saying they wanted a very strong CRB.”
An initial panel worked from August 2018 to July 2019 in the fallout of the Unite the Right rally to create a draft of the bylaws. The eight-member panel (including one non-voting member) is meant to improve public trust in the Charlottesville Police Department after the violence of 2017 and the Unite the Right rally.
The City Council approved the ordinance and bylaws for the panel in November, although some community members remained frustrated with the final proposal. The bylaws establish the board’s meeting procedures and the ordinance covers its composition, staffing and powers.
Sarah Burke, who was a member of the initial panel, spoke during public comment Monday and offered to provide more information to the board about the differences between the initial proposal and what was adopted.
Some of the differences are that the current structure shifts more power to the director than the board, compared with the original proposal, and limited review power and hurdles for public hearings. The initial proposal also included an auditor to study police department data in addition to the executive director.
“What has been given to you is inadequate for the job that’s been presented,” local attorney Jeff Fogel said during public comment.
Stuart Evans, who was elected vice chairman of the CRB at the meeting, said the initial proposal was drafted “over time and not quickly.”
“It gives the board access to more data that will be useful to us making divisions,” he said. “It’s a better set and more complete set of bylaws rather than a more piecemeal approach.”
Carpenter and board member Dorenda Johnson said the board’s actions need to be swift and forceful.
“If we’re going to do this, my hope is that we’re going to do it properly and we’re going to make a difference,” Johnson said. “We’re not going to make a change with anything that’s been watered down because it’s pointless.”
The board jockeyed over the actual process of revising its structure because Carpenter’s motion focused on getting the City Council to take action on both the bylaws and the ordinance. However, the bylaws can be amended by the board without council approval. The ordinance is the only item that requires a council vote.
The measure likely will face an uphill battle. Mayor Nikuyah Walker and Councilor Heather Hill voted in favor of the current structure in November, while the other three councilors — Michael Payne, Lloyd Snook and Sena Magill — weren’t on the council at the time. Payne and Magill have expressed support for the initial proposal. Snook was also supportive during the campaign, but has since said that he does not want to revisit old council decisions.
The current structure requires a board member to present a change to the bylaws at one meeting and then have it voted on separately at the next meeting. City Attorney John Blair said that if the board didn’t follow that process, the action could face legal scrutiny and be overturned by a court. The board later decided to move forward with Carpenter’s proposal while also setting a vote for its next meeting.
Carpenter’s proposal passed with five votes. Board member Gwendolyn Allen resigned prior to the meeting and board member Dierdre Gilmore abstained from voting to take more time to review the different proposals.
“We want change right now, don’t get me wrong. The bylaws look very organized, a lot of hours were put into them. … Waiting a week is probably not going to change the world in a negative way,” said board member James Watson, who was appointed chairman of the CRB during the meeting.
In other business during its inaugural meeting, the board reviewed the Virginia Freedom of Information Act and discussed a draft job posting for an executive director of the board.
The posting includes a salary range of $89,247 to $137,000. It calls for a bachelor’s degree, preferably related to public administration, criminal justice or law. A master’s degree or juris doctorate are also preferred.
The posting seeks a minimum of five years of “progressively responsible” experience in conducting civil, criminal or factual investigations and gathering evidence.
Board members are reviewing the posting and will compile comments to send to city staff before discussing the position again at their next meeting.
“This is a very important decision,” said board member Bill Mendez.
The board next meets virtually at 5 p.m. Tuesday. The city is accepting applications for Allen’s position. Applicants for that particular seat must live in public housing or represent a historically disadvantaged community.