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Madison committee signs off on workgroup to implement police auditor, review board

Madison committee signs off on workgroup to implement police auditor, review board

City-County Building (copy)

City-County Building, 210 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.

Madison’s Finance Committee recommended creating a three-member workgroup to work on laying the logistical, legal and financial groundwork for the city to implement an independent police auditor and a civilian review board. 

The civilian review mechanisms are recommendations from the Madison Police Department Policy Procedure and Review Ad Hoc Committee, whose members said are essential to increasing community accountability of the police department. 

Ald. Rebecca Kemble, District 18, said the city must take action on the ad hoc committee’s recommendations but not haphazardly. 

“We can’t just quick make decisions, although the work is indeed urgent,” Kemble said at the Tuesday meeting.  

[After working on police reform for five years, Madison officials have a 'moment' to act on it]

The workgroup, which would include Alds. Rebecca Kemble, District 18; Shiva Bidar, District 5; and Donna Moreland, District 7; would be tasked with the following:

• Creating an ordinance that would establish independent civilian oversight of the MPD.

• Identifying budget measures to support the civilian oversight board and independent monitor.

• Identifying community organizations to nominate board members.

• Creating a timeline and process for recruitment for members of the oversight board and auditor position.

The resolution creating the workgroup also forms the civilian oversight board as recommended by the ad hoc comittee. 

The independent auditor would have the capacity to examine policies, patterns and practices and promote long-term systemic changes on an ongoing basis, according to the ad hoc committee's recommendations. This position would be responsible to the oversight board that would be representative of the committee and provide input to elected leaders, conduct an annual review of the chief of police and make policy recommendations, among other responsibilities. 

The committee also recommended referring legislation that would create the position of an independent auditor in city ordinances, outline budget authority and form a job description to a meeting in July. 

Alders raised issues of trust, transparency and urgency in their discussion of how to proceed with creating the civilian review mechanisms. Sustained protesting in Madison that was spurred by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis add to the gravity of the auditor and board.   

Black Lives Vigil 060220 02-06042020155922 (copy) (copy)

Hundreds of protesters gather on June 3 at the Wisconsin state Capitol building for a peaceful vigil to honor the black lives that have been lost due to police brutality.

Critics say the independent auditor legislation sponsored by the mayor gutted power from the ad hoc committee’s original recommendation, particularly that the position would report to the mayor, certain investigatory powers and the authority to subpoena. 

Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway acknowledged the mistrust some have in her and the city right now. 

“I realize that there is very little trust right now, for me specifically, but also for the council, for the city, for government in general,” Rhodes-Conway said. 

She assured those tuning in to the virtual meeting that “we all want the same thing here.”

“We all want a strong and independent auditor that can start as soon as possible to do the urgent and critical work of police reform,” Rhodes-Conway said. 

She suggested that the City Council create a new department to maintain the auditor’s independence from the mayor’s office, adjusted the proposed job description and floated that the review board have subpoena power rather than the auditor. 

Rhodes-Conway stressed the importance of getting a job position approved by the City Council, so that the hiring process can begin quickly. She referenced talking with a protester who participated in shutting down John Nolen Drive June 1 and wanted to know what she has done as mayor and not about what she has talked about or worked on. 

“While I'm sympathetic that this is complicated work, and I’m sympathetic to the desire to discuss it more, I think this one is pretty straightforward,” Rhodes-Conway said. “We need to create an independent auditor position, and I think we need to do it now.” 

Because of broken trust in the community, Kemble emphasized the importance of public involvement. 

“We need to do this in an open and publicly transparent process and we need to do it with mindfulness and with urgency,” Kemble said.  

Ald. Barbara Harrington-McKinney, District 1, and City Council President Sheri Carter aligned with the mayor in terms of urgency. Carter also attempted to increase the number of alders on the workgroup from three to five.

“We need to work on getting both items up and running,” Carter said. “The longer we take to do it, the more people are going to say that we did not hear them, we are not doing anything.”

Harrington-McKinney voted against the resolution that would create a workgroup. 

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