By KENDRA SITTON | La Mesa Courier
La Mesa City Council voted 3-2 in favor of creating a citizens police oversight board and hiring an independent police auditor in a city council meeting on Oct. 13.
The two Council members who voted against the ordinance in its second reading, Kristine Alessio and Bill Baber, were worried that without holding an official “Meet and Confer” with the Police Officer’s Association (POA), the city could be hit with a lawsuit.
Vice Mayor Dr. Akilah Weber made the motion to approve the ordinance as is and stated that if the POA wishes to continue a casual dialogue on the ordinance they can, but not in the elongated process required by a meet and confer.
She pointed out there was a representative of the POA on the task force that created the ordinance and in the three weeks since the ordinance passed its first reading, the POA could have asked questions or asked for specific changes in the ordinance. Instead, she said the POA’s reasons for wanting a meet and confer have remained vague.
“I do have some concerns about how this request for a meet and confer has come up. The request for the meet and confer at the last moment on Sept. 15 makes me question the motives and the lack of transparency,” Dr. Akilah Weber said.
The motion passed with a second from Council member Colin Parent and a deciding vote from Mayor Mark Arapostathis.
Parent said he took the request for a meet and confer seriously, but after reading the memo from the city’s outside counsel he is it was clear to him that the ordinance did not fall under the legal requirements for holding a meet and confer.
The task force appointed by City Council to develop the police oversight ordinance also weighed in on the POA’s request for a meet and confer. In a letter to City Council dated Oct. 6, the task force wrote:
“We were deeply dismayed when, just hours before our [Sept. 15] presentation, the La Mesa Police Officers’ Association (POA) legal representatives delivered a letter demanding the initiation of a Meet and Confer. We designed the Community Police Oversight Board (CPOB) so that it would not affect the wages, hours and working conditions of our officers because we did not want to delay the implementation of the oversight board with a Meet and Confer, a process that can take half a year to complete. We ask that you ensure that any discussion with the POA is resolved quickly and is not allowed to delay the critical work of the police oversight board.”
The task force letter criticized the POA for using a stall tactic at a time when “people are angry” and “unprecedented numbers of people are marching on our streets.” The task force letter urged passage of the ordinance because the oversight board will be of benefit to everyone who lives, works in and visits La Mesa – and that includes police officers.”
The La Mesa ordinance is modeled after City of Davis which did not hold a meet and confer with its POA when its ordinance was created.
Before the first motion received a full vote, Alessio introduced a substitute motion to adopt the ordinance as is with a 30-day timeline on a meet and confer. Baber seconded the motion but it failed without a third vote.
The City Council will have significant discretion to select the auditor because qualifications were not included in the bylaws of the ordinance. The auditor will have access to the police department’s files and policies and typically a background in investigative work and law. This means that volunteers from the community on the oversight board will not have to conduct investigations on their own.
Many residents sent in public comments to the meeting in support of approving the measure. Several also called on Council members not to let the POA further delay the proceedings through an official Meet and Confer.
— Reach contributing editor Kendar Sitton at firstname.lastname@example.org.