Charlottesville City Council is getting heat from residents and members of the Police Civilian Review Board for not involving the oversight panel in a planned listening session on policing.
Two members of the existing board and three from the initial panel grilled the council on its interactions with the CRB during the council’s meeting on Monday.
The flashpoint came Monday afternoon when board members learned they would not be allowed to participate in Tuesday’s listening session.
Board member Dorenda Johnson said she was “speechless” when she found out that the city was holding a listening session Tuesday without consulting the board.
“When I found out about this listening session that you’re having [and] that no one from that board could partake in that, that’s causing a division right there,” she said. “That right there, that appears to me that you’re undermining the PCRB.”
Resident Ang Conn asked why the CRB wasn’t consulted or invited to the session and that “It just seems to me that council isn’t being transparent.”
Councilor Lloyd Snook said the meeting was called primarily in response to calls to defund the police department. Councilor Sena Magill said it would be the first opportunity for council to get a broader understanding of the community’s deands.
“This forum is coming about because we all recognize that we need to hear from the community about what the community wants and where the problems are being identified,” she said. “We needed to start somewhere.”
Magill said the meeting “has nothing to do with keeping the PCRB away or out of this. It really is a chance for council to hear from the community.”
The council and the board, which next meets Aug. 13, have butted heads since before the oversight panel even started meeting in June.
In its first meeting, the board voted to revert to the bylaws and ordinance presented by an initial panel that met from August 2018 to July 2019 to craft the its structure.
However, the council has indicated that it will take no action on the bylaws before the General Assembly holds a special session on policing this month.
Board members have feuded with Mayor Nikuyah Walker, questioned the process for some city officials to appear at its virtual meetings and had difficulties communicating with city officials.
CRB member Nancy Carpenter said the city is trying to hamper the body’s work. She mentioned that during its first meeting, City Manager Tarron Richardson had interrupted board members Dorenda Johnson and Dierdre Gilmore when they were discussing a lack of trust between the community and police department. At the time, he noted that the meeting had exceeded its planned end time by about 15 minutes and requested an end to business.
Carpenter said that the council’s actions undermine any statements of support and the board feels it is all for show.
“I don’t want to be part of a dog and pony show,” she said.
Harold Folley, an activist and member of the People’s Coalition, highlighted issues with the initial board, likening the current situation to “Groundhog Day,” the 1993 movie starring Bill Murray in which the main character keeps reliving the same day.
“We thought the new council would come in and have the courage to say let’s look at this and make it better,” he said. “Can we get City Council to have the courage to fight for the people they need to be fighting for?”
Sarah Burke, who was a member of the initial board, said that current board members are in “a really challenging position.” She said the board’s structure isn’t strong enough and “if it just gives the illusion of oversight,” then it is counterproductive.
Walt Heinecke, an activist and University of Virginia professor, said that board members could be considering mass resignations.
“People in the community basically feel like we’ve been engaged in a bait and switch game,” he said. “You’re basically watching a slow train wreck start to unfold right now. … You’ve created something and you’re undermining it and it’s going to lead to a public mess.”
Johnson said that the council needs to rebuild trust with the board.
“If the PCRB and council cannot work together and the division that you caused continues, nothing will be accomplished,” she said. “This has got to stop. We need a change. We need this fixed and we need you guys to work together with the PCRB the way you’re supposed to. … This is absolutely horrible what you are doing.”
Councilor Michael Payne said that he supported a meeting with council, city staff and the board to review the initial bylaws and ordinance and discuss gray areas, what isn’t allowed and the city’s concerns. The idea, however, isn’t supported by a majority of the council, Payne said.
“There’s not three votes to do that. I’m one person. I don’t have the ability to change reality,” he said. “We already have the board members saying they’re looking at resigning. I don’t know what it’s going to take but we’re going to have to reexamine this if we want to have any level of buy in and be successful.”