Bloomington city commission on public safety pitched by 3 councilmembers, gets lukewarm response from council standing committee

At its meeting last Wednesday, the Bloomington city council’s standing committee on public safety considered an ordinance that would establish a new city commission.

The 11-member commission would be called the Community Advisory on Public Safety Commission, which yields CAPS as an acronym. Its goal, according to the ordinance, would be to “to increase the safety of all Bloomington community members, especially those often marginalized due to race, disability, gender, sexual identity, or sexual orientation.”

According to the ordinance wording, the commission’s membership, which would be appointed by the city council, is to include people who are Black, Latinx, other people of color, people with disabilities, people who are non-cisgender, and members of other marginalized groups.

The ordinance grew in part out of a national movement over the summer that came in response to police violence against Black people, including the killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville.

The ordinance creating the commission is sponsored by three councilmembers: Matt Flaherty, Kate Rosenbarger, and Isabel Piedmont-Smith. Of the three, Piedmont-Smith is the one who is a member of the standing committee on public safety. The other three members of the committee are: Jim Sims (chair), Sue Sgambelluri, and Susan Sandberg.

After a couple hours of deliberation on Wednesday, Sims, Sgambelluri, and Sandberg seemed ready to send the proposal back to the full city council without their support—by abstaining from a committee vote.

In the end, they voted to hold another committee meeting on the topic.

Sgambelluri said it was not clear to her how other similar local groups that have been created to address public safety issues would work together with the proposed CAPS commission. Sgambelluri also wanted to see some connection between city and county governments on the issue.

Among Sandberg’s concerns was that the proposal for the commission had been made “rather quickly.” Sandberg felt that it could be beneficial to have a wide variety of community members serving on such a commission such as CAPS, but added, “We have a lot of things spinning up in the air that we have to keep our focus on.”

Sims said he agreed with the ordinance sponsors that there is some urgency to the issue, but is not certain that creating a new commission is the best path to take: “Where I’m starting to have a slight disagreement is that it has to be a commission in order for us to listen to our own citizens—as opposed to a task force or a focus group.”

Beverly Calender-Anderson, who heads up the city’s community and family resources department (CFRD), was asked to comment during the committee meeting. Calender-Anderson is part of a group that’s assembling a task force to study the future of policing in the community. She said, “I think adding more layers of commissions and committees and task forces and boards has the potential to be confusing to community members—about not only what they’re signing up for, but also what authority they have and what and who they’re accountable to.”

Maqubè Reese, a member of Bloomington’s board of public safety, who is a part of Calender-Anderson’s working group, told the committee she had concerns about the approach that was being taken to creating the commission. “Not only do we Black, indigenous, people of color…want a seat at the table, but we also want to create that table and we want other people to join our table.”

The proposal was saved from a committee recommendation that would have just one vote of support, when Piedmont-Smith moved to hold another committee meeting on the topic. That’s possible because the city code doesn’t require a standing committee to report back to the full council until the second regular meeting after which a matter is referred to it.

All four committee members voted in favor of holding another committee meeting on establishing the CAPS commission. That will take place on Nov. 12, which is a Thursday, shifted from the day before, which is Veterans Day.

The CAPS proposal comes in the context of a couple of initiatives made by mayor Hamilton’s administration, which date back to the controversy over a vendor with white-supremacist ties at the city’s farmers market. One of the initiatives was to invite the assistance of The Bridge Initiative, to help Bloomington with its community engagement on topics of racism and inclusiveness. The Bridge Initiative is a part of the Divided Community Project, which is housed at The Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law.

About the Divided Communities initiative, during Wednesday’s committee meeting, Piedmont-Smith said that she did not feel included in it: “I think it’s wonderful that it’s a community initiative, and the outreach to the county and several different facets of our community, that’s wonderful. But I, as a city council member, don’t feel like I’ve been invited to be involved with that. So I just want to say that.”

Hamilton also announced over the summer that he was going to ask the board of public safety to assemble a task force. In a July 30 speech, he said, “I’m going to ask the board of public safety…to create an advisory committee on public safety review, to pick individuals who represent our community and viewpoints and expertise to form an advisory committee to that five-member board.”

A couple of weeks later, on the first night of budget hearings, Piedmont-Smith questioned the choice of the board of public safety—with five members who are all appointed by the mayor under state statute—to assemble the advisory committee. “So I’m just wondering why the mayor has chosen to go through the board of public safety, rather than casting a broader net?”

It was deputy mayor Mick Renneisen who fielded Piedmont-Smith’s question. As far as including other input, Renneisen said, “It hasn’t been formed, yet. So there’s still room for discussion. I would offer that in my days as the parks director, we had a lot of advisory councils, and still do, that are appointed by the board of park commission, which is appointed by the mayor.”

The board of public safety has not acted to create the committee that the mayor described in July. CFRD head Beverly Calender-Anderson told The Square Beacon that the committee has been subsumed by a task force on the future of policing, which is being assembled by a group of eight people—three administration officials and five citizens.

The three members from the administration are Calender-Andersen, director of community engagement Mary Catherine Carmichael, and chief of police Mike Diekhoff.

About the various groups that are under consideration for working on public safety issues, Diekhoff told The Square Beacon, “Having a diverse cross section of the community discussing this brings valued insight from those who we might not interact with on a daily basis and those who we do interact with frequently. Listening to their thoughts and concerns is something we need to do to build community trust and make things better. I am hopeful that the thoughts and ideas brought forward by these different groups will lead to better trust and discussions that will make policing better for our community.”

The five citizen members are Maqubè Reese (board of public safety), Carl Darnell (assistant dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion at Indiana University), Lisa-Marie Napoli (director of political and civic engagement (PACE) at Indiana University ), Don Griffin (local real estate agent and redevelopment commission member), and Robb Stone (local artist).

The back-and-forth between Piedmont-Smith and Reese during Wednesday’s committee was frank. It was interspersed with speaking turns from others.

Maqubè Reese said:

I wanted to say something as it relates to what councilwoman Piedmont-Smith mentioned. I hear her say that she wants to empower the people as it relates to including people at the table. However, in this CAPS commission, those individuals, Black, indigenous, people of color… were not part of the conversation in creating this CAPS piece. And that’s my number one concern. Because not only do we Black, indigenous, people of color in their intersections, want a seat at the table, but we also want to create that table and we want other people to join our table.

Piedmont-Smith replied:

And I can say, personally, that, if I were to do this over again, I would involve Black, indigenous, people of color much earlier in the process. And that is an error in how we developed this proposal. And I apologize for that. I still think the proposal has value. And it is creating a venue for those voices to be heard. So that’s why I’m still pursuing it. But…we’re open to revising it to be as inclusive as possible.

Reese responded:

“I think that this is very white-centered. And it has a lot of privilege, as it relates to creating a space or…what people like to say, as far as a seat at the table, versus actually allowing people to create their own space, and you all join it.

And so I know Isabel mentioned an apology. I hear that apology. But my issue with that is that although this has been shared, it still hasn’t been worked out as it relates to including voices… And so I hear that you hear me, but your actions speak louder than words. … And I’ve heard people say that they feel like this is a white savior mentality for this particular commission. …How do we create spaces for people—include them and not have a savior mentality? …I don’t want to feel like I need some type of saving. And I hear people say, “Well, I’ve been having conversations for the last four to six months.” Personally, I’ve been having conversations my whole entire life.

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