An outspoken police critic and former City Council member has been appointed by Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway to sit on a committee that makes recommendations on the police department.
The move comes after the mayor tapped another police critic, Greg Gelembiuk, for service on the Madison Police Department Policy and Procedure Review Ad Hoc Committee. The council formally added him to that committee on May 21 on a 13-6 vote, with one abstention.
Konkel served as the council member from the Near East Side’s 2nd District from 2001 to 2009 and was the longtime executive director of the Tenant Resource Center before being ousted in October over alleged financial mismanagement. She also runs a blog on local politics and government and has been an advocate for the homeless.
In 2016, Konkel filed a complaint against two Madison police officers who used expletives and vulgar language in comments to online petitions while off duty. The two were later disciplined in the incident.
She also started an online petition urging the City Council to file a formal complaint against Madison Police Chief Mike Koval with the city’s Police and Fire Commission, which oversees hiring and firing and discipline for the two city departments.
Konkel accused Koval of violating several police department rules, and of engaging in “bigoted mockery” of nonwhite council members, among other things.
The council did not file a complaint, but in a separate matter filed against Koval by the grandmother of a police shooting victim, the PFC found that Koval committed misconduct by making disrespectful comments to the woman, but declined to discipline him. The council later voted 15-4 to cover his legal costs in the matter.
The PSRC was one of several city committees Konkel expressed interest in after Rhodes-Conway became mayor in April.
“I’m hoping to meet with Chief Koval and hear his thoughts and talk to some others before I decide what I think we should be working on,” Konkel said about her interest in the committee. “I’m also hoping the (City) Council and PSRC will finish their discussions and finalize revisions to the charge of the committee as recommended by the common council policing committee.”
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That policing committee had, in a 2017 report, recommended a review of the PSRC’s role, membership and mission.
Ald. Paul Skidmore, 9th District, who’s called for more police funding and is a former PSRC member, called Konkel’s nomination “extremely disappointing.”
“Let’s see if she supports the police department and what they’re doing,” he said.
In a statement, Rhodes-Conway said: “PSRC needs a great facilitator and someone who is very knowledgeable about city services and how they work. Konkel brings both skills, and a wealth of experience and knowledge on issues related to the committee’s work.”
Criticism of Madison police has increased in recent years, largely in the wake of the 2015 fatal police shooting of a 19-year-old black man, Tony Robinson, who was unarmed but intoxicated and combative. The man’s grandmother, Sharon Irwin, was the one who filed the complaint against Koval with the PFC in 2016.
The officer in the Robinson case, Matt Kenny, was cleared of any wrongdoing, but the city later agreed to a $3.35 million settlement with Robinson’s family, without admitting any fault.
The City Council also voted in June 2016 to spend up to $400,000 on an independent review of Madison police. The review, released in December 2017, largely praised the department as “far from ‘a Department in crisis’” but also made 146 recommendations.
The committee Gelembiuk was appointed to is wrapping up more than three years of work related to that report, and the council is expected to take up measures this year that would establish an independent monitor for the department and require another layer of review of “critical” police incidents.
Koval has in recent years bemoaned the council’s lack of investment in his department, saying last week that a staffing study shows it needs 31 more patrol positions.
Editor's note: This story has been changed to reflect that Brenda Konkel's appointment to the Public Safety Review Committee is as the mayor's designee, which does not require a vote by the City Council.