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Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 11.26.08




Just Do It

Voters want a firewall of independence

by Bonny Bettman

The city of Eugene will never have truly independent and effective oversight of complaints involving police unless city councilors and the mayor get a backbone. On Nov. 17, following the lead of Mayor Kitty Piercy and Councilor Andrea Ortiz, they Ignored two elections and five years of public input by sending the police auditor program back to the drawing board for ever more discussion, dilution, disservice, and — worst of all — delay. 

What Council should have done was send the revisions to the police auditor ordinance to a public hearing and move forward affirmatively, once and for all, to ensure that the auditor can actually do the job the voters mandated. Council should have put an end to constant challenges, delays and undermining perpetrated by the EPD on the police complaint oversight program. 

The Charter establishes the minimal threshold of authority the auditor and Civilian Review Board must have. Those decisions have already been made by the voters and must be implemented by the Council. Eugene citizens demonstrated, for the second time in three years, unwavering support for independent oversight. The Charter changes passed with an unprecedented 65 percent approval. That is a mandate under any circumstances; and in an election with 85 percent voter turnout, it is unquestionably the will of the people. 

The Charter requires the council to authorize the police auditor to assume the powers and fulfill the duties described in the Charter. Council does this by adopting revisions to the auditor ordinance, spelling out how the program shall work.  

The 12 draft revisions spell out the auditor’s authority as mandated by the Charter. Most of the revisions directly address issues identified from EPD’s continuous challenges to the auditor’s authority to perform oversight duties. EPD’s resistance has continued to escalate over the three years since the creation of the complaint oversight program: the obstruction, petty interference, serious delays; withholding of complaints, information, and access to complaint investigations; denying direct access to data and offices; inadequate evidence gathering and documentation; unwarranted secrecy; and frivolous accusations and litigation. 

This is an ominous regression more worthy of a Jim Torrey-led council than a Piercy mayorship. Councilor Betty Taylor said: “If JIm Torrey had pulled a stunt like this, people would be up in arms, but because it is Kitty, people are just confused.” After discouraging losses in the November elections, it is easy to imagine the delight of the conservative wing of the council as they sat back and watched the alleged “liberal” majority self-destruct.



It is unclear who pulled the plug.

Several days before the work session Nov. 17, there was at least one “private” meeting in the mayor’s office which included Ortiz, Interim Police Chief Pete Kearns, city legal counsel Glenn Klein, the Lane County DA’s office and the mayor. That weekend Ortiz announced she would make a motion canceling the public hearing and turning the ordinance revision process over to an insider committee, membership determined by her and the mayor, for more “process” and “stakeholder input.”

Their hand-picked committee includes two police union representatives, two police commissioners and the interim police chief. No matter how you cut it, that is a very heavy police bias. In one quick and indecisive motion, Oritz, Piercy and Zelenka aligned with the “conservative wing” to subvert the voters’ will as well as undermine the “independence” in independent oversight. They ignored the decisive input of the ultimate “stakeholders,” almost 50,000 Eugene citizens, in favor of asking the fox to remodel the hen house. 

This maneuver keeps the auditor’s office functioning with less authority and more ambiguity than the Charter mandates. EPD and city administration are determined to keep the auditor as far away from actual complaint investigations as they can, and their actions speak louder than their words. I see their fingerprints all over this latest maneuver. 

Voters want a firewall of independence between the power of the auditors office and the power of the EPD (and city administration), not a firewall between police complaint investigations and auditor oversight. The council must revise the ordinance to institute the full authority vested in the auditor’s office by the voters. The mayor and councilors need to get the message that they were elected to represent the people of this city, not the bureaucracy, and 65 percent is as close to “all of Eugene” they can hope for. So, tell them to just do it.

 

Bonny Bettman is a Eugene city councilor, retiring from her post in January.