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Council Eyes More Info Before Starting Process of Filling Police Oversight Panel

Published on Tuesday, October 20, 2020 | 6:00 am

Any next steps the City Council might take toward filling the 11 empty seats on Pasadena’s newly approved Community Police Oversight Commission will not occur until mid-November at the earliest.

That became fact on Monday when the council, after about two hours of sometimes testy debate, voted to direct city staff to prepare “a comprehensive report … to review and research the assembling of the composition of the commission, using other cities’ models and their selection process (as a guide),’’ according to a motion made by Councilmember Steve Madison.

The council’s direction to City Manager Steve Mermell and his staff emerged after a two-page memorandum to the council – co-authored by Mayor Terry Tornek and Councilmember John J. Kennedy, chairman of the council’s Public Safety Committee – was criticized as insufficient by fellow councilmembers, particularly by Madison and Victor Gordo.

The Tornek-Kennedy memo — which was basically a synopsis of ideas that were kicked around at the Oct. 7 Public Safety Committee meeting — had recommended that “the City Council direct the city attorney to prepare a resolution establishing the process … for appointment of members of the Community Police Oversight Commission.’’

But that goal never took wing Monday, as councilmembers instead pushed for a report from city staff that’s intended to dive deeper into the myriad of variables that will go into selecting Pasadena’s oversight commission members.

Among them: whether council members should be mandated to vet their individual nominees in some public forum; what qualifications, skills sets and life experiences will be sought from commission members; how nominees for three at-large seats, chosen from among community-based groups, will be selected; whether commission members will receive compensation; what training commission members might need to undergo before being seated; and whether current or former police offices would be eligible to serve.

None of those issues was addressed in the Tornek-Kennedy memo, which can be read here.

Instead, council members Monday pushed for city staff to provide more background and data from other cities’ oversight panels from which to draw.

Mermell was given a mid-November “target,” in the words of Tornek.

“We’ll endeavor to get it done as quick as we can, but there’s a lot going in in the city,’’ Mermell said. “So, we’ll do our best as we do with everything.’’

To which Tornek replied: “If you need more time, you’ll tell us.”

This was the full council’s first crack at discussing the formal process of filling out the 11-member commission after it was finally approved at the body’s Oct. 5 meeting, along with a separate, independent auditor.

Councilmembers from each of the city’s seven districts will nominate a commissioner, and the mayor will nominate another. In addition, three at-large commissioners from “community-based” groups will be nominated. The council will have final approval on all the commissioners and the auditor.

Monday, it was Madison’s concerns about how to start filling those seats that got the debate going.

“I’d like to have a staff report on this important issue. I’d like to know staff’s assessment of best practices is in this regard,’’ Madison said.

Addressing Tornek and Kennedy, Madison added, “I want the best of our professional staff’s research and analysis. … What you’re essentially saying is that the council is limited in this important decision-making to the research and analysis that you and Mr. Kennedy have done. I don’t settle for that. I would like our professional staff, through the city manager and any of his staff that he thinks is appropriate to advise us about the best practices to be able to do this.’’

Vice Mayor Tyron Hampton said, “I think that that is a fair ask.’’

“I’m so taken aback that no one has said, ‘OK, here are the best practices, here’s what other cities are doing,’ ’’ Hampton said. “I just did a cursory search, and L.A. County doesn’t allow police officers to be on their commission … most committees don’t allow that.’’

“It’s very weird that we have a lot of cities that have these (commissions), and we just don’t even have samples (from those other cities),’’ Hampton added.

“I would like for this to happen ASAP, but I think the staff just needs to do a cursory search and say, ‘Hey, these are the top five cities in our state that have oversight, and here is exactly what they do.’ We have a two-page document. … I want to be able that I voted on something that I can be proud of.’’

Gordo, who is running for mayor against Tornek next month, agreed.

“I would suggest that we give direction to the city staff, to the city attorney because there are legalities involved, to the city clerk, because there are going to be records involved that need to be handled carefully, to have the city manager advise us on the best model,’’ Gordo said.

“We may have the perfect model before us … but there’s no baseline to compare it to, and the public hasn’t had an opportunity to review the baseline.’’

Gordo also said the city’s latest in-depth information on police oversight models was from a 2016 report commissioned during an earlier, failed attempt at establishing an oversight body in Pasadena.

“We just need to get back to the point where we’re moving swiftly but thoughtfully, and I don’t get the sense that we’re doing that,’’ Gordo said. “I don’t get the sense that we’re thinking through all of the ramifications … and getting sufficient time for people to digest.’’

Councilmember Andy Wilson also pushed for the city staff report, saying, “There are probably a bunch of strategies we haven’t thought of that may be better, worse, interesting, not relevant. So it would be helpful to get a sense of what people are doing. It doesn’t have to be a huge consulting project but I would love to see if there are things that we can learn.’’

Madison – who sits on the Public Safety Committee with Tornek, Hampton and Kennedy – said he was looking for “a professional staff report reflecting what the best practices are for assembling the composition of the commission. … so that we can look at the experience of best practices in making this decision. … I want the staff to approach this comprehensively.’’

Tornek, meanwhile, defended his and Kennedy’s memo to the council, indicating he saw it as a launch point for further talks.

“We did receive a lot of public comments in terms of suggestions about criteria for commission membership and method of selection,’’ Tornek said.

“The objective is to just keep the process moving and give direction to staff to draft regulations to bring back to the council for official adoption. [Tornek’s and Kennedy’s] staff report was simply an effort to summarize the discussions that we’ve had at Public Safety and at the council.’’

Said Kennedy: “We are simply trying to get a view from the total council, no one member, no two members make a decision. There’s an opportunity for the whole council to say, ‘I don’t like this, this is what I’d like to see done and let’s move forward.’

“My personal goal is to move forward with empaneling the commission. Mr. Madison has made some very legitimate questions to us and has noted some concerns. Had those concerns been raised at the Public Safety Committee, I for one would have been more than happy to do exactly what he suggested. But what I don’t want to happen is for this to get stalled.’’

But for now, at least, the next milepost appears to be mid-November.

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