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Madison City Council rejects proposal to ban tear gas, approves study instead
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Madison City Council rejects proposal to ban tear gas, approves study instead

Police spray protesters

Police in riot gear use tear gas and pepper spray against protesters May 30 on State Street in Madison. The Madison City Council on Tuesday rejected a ban on police using tear gas. 

The Madison City Council on Tuesday scrapped a proposal that would have banned the city's police department from using tear gas, pepper spray and sponge-projectile launchers — all of which police deployed against local protesters this summer. 

Also rejected was an alternative resolution that would have only banned tear gas starting Feb. 2 and requested a study on other de-escalation options. 

Instead, the council voted 16-3 to hold off on prohibiting tear gas until the study of alternatives can be completed. The findings are due Jan. 6.

Although the study had wide support, many who voted for it wished the council would have gone further. Eight council members — Alds. Max Prestigiacomo, Marsha Rummel, Syed Abbas, Shiva Bidar, Grant Foster, Keith Furman, Patrick Heck and Rebecca Kemble — had voted in support of the February tear gas ban. 

Bidar, 5th District, said she was disappointed, but that it was "important for us to at least have the study." 

Only Prestigiacomo, Heck and Kemble voted against the final measure. 

Prestigiacomo, who represents the campus-area 8th District, proposed the more stringent ordinance banning tear gas, pepper spray and launchers. He has noted that “less lethal,” which is how police and others describe the weapons, does not always mean non-lethal. When Prestigiacomo proposed blocking funding for sponge projectile launchers in June, he said taking a stand against such tools would show solidarity with protesters.

Interim Police Chief Vic Wahl has said he welcomes the study of tear gas and police response to protests, but called Prestigiacomo's proposal impractical and unrealistic. He said the less-lethal tools are needed "to deal with a large-scale, violent crowd" and are often used to de-escalate situations beyond protests as well. 

Without tear gas, Wahl said other law enforcement agencies would likely refuse to assist Madison police if unrest continues.

The council did ban the police department from getting some military gear from the federal government through the National Defense Authorization Act's 1033 program.

The police department generally does not use the federal program to get weapons, but rather, equipment such as N95 masks, flashlights, tourniquets and some big-ticket items, including night-vision equipment and robotics. 

Under the new ordinance, banned equipment includes tear gas, bayonets, grenades and explosives, armor-piercing firearms and ammunition, combat vehicles and weaponized drones. The ordinance also requires the police department to report the items it receives to the council and get permission from the council for any items valued at more than $50,000. 

In related action Tuesday, the council unanimously approved 13 appointments to the Civilian Oversight Board that will oversee the city's police department. The appointed members are: Shadayra Kilfoy-Flores; Ananda Deacon; Joshua Hargrove; Isadore Knox, Jr.; Rachel Kincade; Ankita Bharadwaj; Yesenia Villalpando-Torres; Maia Pearson; Jacquelyn Hunt; Keetra Burnette; Anthony Cooper, Sr.; Keith Findley, as first alternate; and Sheray Wallace, as second alternate. 

Some will serve a four-year term, others a three-year term and the rest a two-year term to ensure the terms of all members are staggered. 

Skidmore controversy

The council also voted 17-2 to put up to $10,000 toward an investigation into the recording of the Sept. 1 City Council meeting to determine if a council member used a slur against a female resident. The resolution directs the city to hire data and voice analysts to examine the marathon Zoom meeting. 

Ald. Paul Skidmore, 9th District, has been accused of uttering the gender-based profanity but has adamantly denied saying it.

The resident who was targeted, local activist Kilfoy-Flores, had filed a complaint against Skidmore but withdrew it pending the results of the investigation. The council was initially going to consider establishing a process for a quasi-judicial hearing on the complaint, but opted to do the analysis first.

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At Tuesday's meeting, Kilfoy-Flores said she was frustrated that the city is having to waste $10,000 instead of Skidmore admitting what he said and apologizing to her. 

"This is just a travesty that we have to waste our time this way, that I can't be apologized to," Kilfoy-Flores said.

Only Alds. Skidmore and Barbara Harrington-McKinney voted against the investigation. 

It would take a 15-vote majority of the 20-member council to vote Skidmore out of office or discipline him in some other way if a hearing is eventually held. Skidmore has said he may challenge any action the council takes against him with a lawsuit

East Side project

In other business, the council rejected zoning changes for a significant redevelopment that had been proposed for the corner of Monona Drive and Cottage Grove Road on the East Side, which now holds a strip mall and two other commercial buildings.

Developer Joe Krupp had planned to demolish the roughly 26,300-square-foot Lakeside Shopping Center, the former Jade Monkey bar building and Exhaust Pros muffler shop to make way for a four-story, two-phase project that would deliver 8,000 square feet of commercial space, 188 apartment units and underground parking.

But on a 10-9 vote, the project failed because it reduced the amount of commercial and retail space. The redevelopment initially stalled at Plan Commission for the same reason, but was later reconsidered. 

Although the developer had increased the amount of commercial space from the 2,500 square feet that was initially proposed, council members said it was not enough. 

"All we’re asking for is a developer to leave the shopping center stand," Foster, 15th District, said. 

Foster, who voted against the zoning changes, noted that one of the proposed commercial areas, a live-work space, likely would end up being primarily residential. 

But Rummel, 5th District, voted in support of the project because she doubts the long-term viability of the shopping center, which she called "outdated." 

Other action

Also Tuesday, the council voted 8-11 to reject a resolution that would have asked the state Legislature to create a refundable tax credit program for home improvements near Truax Field due to the placement of F-35 fighter jets at the Wisconsin Air National Guard’s 115th Fighter Wing in Madison. The jets are expected to start arriving in 2023.

"This is not the kind of help that residents are asking for," Kemble, 18th District, said. 

Kemble said most residents in the impacted area are renters, not homeowners and true sound-proofing of a home is a "myth" because "you can't mitigate the outdoors." She said the council should instead pressure the Department of Natural Resources to prevent construction on the site until an investigation of environmental contamination is completed. 

Earlier in the evening, the City Council Executive Committee approved the process for filling the 7th District council seat, which was vacated when former Ald. Donna Moreland resigned last week.

The city won’t hold a special election for the seat but will take applications for the position and appoint someone by Nov. 17, after the council approves the 2021 budget. That person could be replaced in the April election.

Photos: Madison erupts Monday in wake of Kenosha police shooting of Jacob Blake

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