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The Madison City Council on Tuesday approved a measure that would open a spot for a new member on the committee that has been reviewing city police policies, a seat the mayor has recommended be filled by a man one council member called “anti-police.”

The Madison Police Department Policy and Procedure Review Ad Hoc Committee has been reviewing police policies and procedures for the past three years in the wake of the 2015 death of Tony Robinson, an unarmed, intoxicated and allegedly combative black teen who was fatally shot by a Madison police officer.

The ad hoc committee was tasked with completing a comprehensive review of the Madison Police Department and finding ways to improve police-community relations, especially with regard to race. The committee is now working on its final report.

The panel has shrunk over the past three years — including after its former chairman, now-Ald. Christian Albouras, District 20, stopped coming to meetings because of his new political position — and has had to cancel some meetings because not enough members were present to make a quorum.

To help the committee finish its work effectively, the council voted to decrease its total number of members so it could more easily meet quorum.

The council initially was looking to decrease the number of members from 15 to 12. At its meeting Tuesday, council members voted 13-7 to decrease the number of members to 13 instead, which leaves one seat open.

Members disagreed over whether they should open up a spot on the committee or go with the initial recommendation of reducing the committee to 12 seats.

Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway suggested Gregory Gelembiuk be appointed to the seat. Gelembiuk — who is also a member of the Community Response Team, a group of Madison citizens working to address policing and public safety issues — has been an active participant in the ad hoc committee.

Council members were barred from mentioning Gelembiuk’s name at the meeting because of a rule that prohibits openly discussing appointees until the meeting after they are recommended. Rhodes-Conway introduced the appointment Tuesday, and the council will vote on it March 21.

Though not mentioning Gelembiuk by name, Ald. Marsha Rummel, District 6, said “that person” has been at every meeting since the committee started and said she supported the opportunity to add him as a member.

City Council President Shiva Bidar said she thought it would send a “chilling message” not to add someone to the committee after he had been working alongside the committee for three years.

But Ald. Barbara Harrington-McKinney, District 1, said after the meeting that Gelembiuk has been “anti-police” since the start of the committee’s work. She said adding him now would put the committee’s final report at risk.

“I don’t want a report where people say the integrity of the report is flawed,” Harrington-McKinney said.

Ald. Tag Evers, District 13, called Harrington-McKinney’s concerns unfounded. He said he does not think the appointment would “flip the narrative” and make people suddenly mistrust the report.

The ad hoc committee unanimously supported the proposal that would open up a seat. Ald. Tag Evers, District 13, said council members should trust the committee’s judgment. He voted in favor of the proposal.

The council will vote on Gelembiuk’s appointment next Tuesday.

 

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Emily Hamer is a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal. She joined the paper in April 2019 and was formerly an investigative reporting intern at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.