Charlottesville Mayor Nikuyah Walker is taking a step back from interactions with the Police Civilian Review Board, asking Councilor Michael Payne to try rebuilding the fractured trust between the oversight panel and the city government.
Walker asked Payne to be an “unofficial” liaison to the board during City Council’s virtual meeting on Monday.
The city has been at odds with the young board, with Walker in the center of some heated exchanges with board members.
The board, which started meeting earlier this summer, came about in the fallout of the 2017 Unite the Right rally. The city tasked an initial panel with creating an ordinance and bylaws for the permanent board in a process fraught with contention.
Walker said she “had hoped that we would be in a better place this go around.”
“I don’t know how we’re going to have a functioning PCRB without having a working relationship,” she said. “I am fearful of what’s happening in the meetings, that things are kind of unraveling and we’re not making any progress.”
Walker has said that board members’ questions about the participation of her and other city officials in their meetings are charged with racism and criticized board members’ interactions with The Daily Progress. Board member Stuart Evans last week called the interactions “insulting.”
The board was scheduled to hold a first meeting earlier this year, but was shelved by the coronavirus pandemic. As the city started holding virtual government meetings, board members tried to get started but ran into issues communicating with city officials and each other.
Issues started when, at its first meeting, the board voted to request that the council revert its bylaws and ordinance to the structure presented by the initial panel. Board members and activists have been critical of the structure approved by the council, saying it is a watered down version of the original proposal.
However, the council has indicated that it will take no such action before the General Assembly holds a special session on policing this month, a decision that has led to more contention.
Board members and activists also were outraged when the CRB was not allowed to participate in the City Council’s virtual listening session on policing earlier this month.
At its last meeting, the board voted to seek independent legal representation while venting about a contentious relationship with the city.
Walker said that staff stayed on the virtual meeting call to answer questions, but the CRB meeting ended without their input.
“If you watched the last meeting, there’s nothing healthy going on in that meeting,” she said “We seem to be going down the same path that we went through before.”
Walker highlighted Payne’s comments at the listening session when he said 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.
“If there’s not any trust between the CRB and the city, I find it hard to move forward if there’s no basis of trust in anything the city is doing,” Payne said Monday. “I do think there’s a sincere desire on council to have it be something that actually works. … I just want to make sure we’re able to get a strong CRB off the ground and not just have it all fall apart.”
Councilor Heather Hill said officials are trying to balance being helpful without being overbearing.
“We’re certainly engaged, but there’s this fine line between overstepping,” she said. “It’s been tough, it’s been really tough.”
The board is also down one member because Gwendolyn Allen resigned before it started meeting. The council received three applicants and is scheduling interviews to replace her.
The applicants are activist Rosia Parker, who was on the initial CRB; Bellamy Brown, a financial advisor at former City Council candidate; and Latita Talbert, a city transit driver and former member of the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority board of commissioners.
The CRB discussion came shortly after the council voted to limit virtual meetings of boards of commissions to once a month for a maximum of two hours. The decision excludes the council, Board of Architectural Review, Planning Commission and the board of the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority.