A community policing panel — created to improve public confidence in the police — violated the state’s open meetings law in barring a citizen from a closed-door meeting with the police chief.
So concluded a hearing officer for the Freedom of Information Commission (FOIC), who sided with Patricia Kane, an attorney and civil rights activist, in an appeal claiming that the Community and Police Relations Task Force violated state law.
The task force shouldn’t have talked privately with Chief Anthony Campbell, and its members shouldn’t have demanded that Kane explain her reasons for showing up at a meeting, the hearing officer, Paula Pearlman, wrote in a proposed decision.
The FOIC will take a final vote on the report later this month.
Mayor Toni Harp appointed the community policing task force in 2015 after the controversial arrest of a teenager outside the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The cops and activists on the panel issued two reports chock full of recommendations, including ways to deescalate tense encounters, catch misconduct and recruit a more diverse force. More recently, the task force has turned to the department’s long-term planning.
When Kane showed up for a July 13, 2017, meeting, members of the task force asked that she identify herself and state why she’d come in. Kane refused, but a task force member blurted out her name and job. Not wanting to provoke further hostility, she wrote her name on a sign-in sheet.
Kane later complained that the members “created a hostile atmosphere.” Pearlman agreed, finding that the task force had created an “improper precondition of attendance,” which the Freedom of Information Act prohibits.
The task force also went into a closed-door meeting with Campbell to discuss “contractual issues” outside of collective bargaining agreements. Kane objected, and the task force threatened to have police remove her.
Before the FOIC’s hearing officer, the task force members admitted that they were “unaware” of the law’s limits on executive sessions, and they acknowledged a need to train themselves on the requirements in state law. In early November, they participated in a workshop on open government.
Pearlman declined to nullify the panel’s actions at last year’s meeting nor to force it to turn over all its records, as Kane had requested. Instead, she ordered the task force to “strictly comply” with the law at all future meetings.
“The lack of training for Board members is a real problem,” Kane wrote in an email. “The city should mandate training for all people serving on boards and commissions so we don’t have to go this route.”
The Independent is currently appealing the Police Commission’s executive session and the Police Department’s non-disclosure of a drug policy for new hires.