San Jose: Charter Commissioners Stand Firm On Police Oversight, Climate Work After City Memo

SAN JOSE — Members of the city’s Charter Review Commission are echoing their resolve to finish proposals to bolster the city’s police oversight structure and climate-change response, after a new memo revived concerns the city is trying to push them away from those issues.

For most of the year, the volunteer commission — tasked with recommending city charter revisions to put on the next election ballot — has gathered information and solicited experts to help form changes for the city council to consider. Two primary council directives for the commission were to evaluate changing the mayoral election cycle to align with the presidential election and giving the mayor more executive authority in city government.

The 23-member panel was also given the scope to look wider; they selected police oversight and climate change as issues to assess where charter changes could improve the city’s performance.

“What attracted a lot of us was the opportunity to make changes in the environment, in accountability,” Commissioner Magnolia Segol said.

That idealism was clouded this past weekend, as members looked over a memo from two city councilmembers asking city staff to re-focus the commission’s work toward those original directives about the mayoral cycle and executive power.

Contained in that memo, authored by Vice Mayor Chappie Jones and Councilmember Sergio Jimenez, was a refrain they had seen before: That the commission’s months of work on the police oversight issue risked being redundant with other city police-reform initiatives, specifically with the city’s “Reimagining Public Safety” community advisory group formed in the wake of the 2020 George Floyd demonstrations.

The redundancy notion was first relayed in September in a letter from City Manager Jennifer Maguire. There was notable pushback, including from the “reimagining” group whose advisory role was cited as a reason for why the charter commission could step aside.

A few days after the letter was sent, the commission told the city: Thanks, but no thanks, we’ll keep doing what we’re doing.

Now, when the commission is on the verge of presenting recommendations that could include revising the charter to create a community-formed police oversight body and a climate commission, the memo from Jones and Jimenez specifically orders city staff to urge that commission resources are “prioritized to provide support as it relates to governance structure and election cycles.”

On the other issues the commission evaluated for most of 2021 — including the city’s urban growth boundary — the memo states that “in retrospect, prescribing the scope of work to include ‘additional measures and potential charter amendments, as needed, that will improve accountability, representation, and inclusion at San José City Hall’ may have been too broad of a direction.”

That left some commission members fuming about the hundreds of hours they have devoted to date.

“For them to tell me I shouldn’t be looking at it, and for the other 22 people who sat through all of that training, it’s completely insulting,” Segol said. “They should be ashamed of themselves for wasting our time.”

Rick Callender, another commissioner and president of the California/Hawaii NAACP State Conferences, said the council and city staff should have clearly stated intentions that the executive power and election cycle matters — which he says the commission sufficiently evaluated — were all the city actually wanted to be reviewed.

“This thing would have shut down in March or April,” Callender said.

He also joined the chorus insisting that nothing the commission explored on police issues was duplicative.

“These are absolutely not redundant, ‘reimagining’ is talking about policy. What we’re talking about is oversight, things that are completely different and should be considered independently,” Callender said.

In response to inquiries from this news organization, Jimenez said he wasn’t trying to stifle the commission’s work. He emphasized that he wanted to make sure that actionable recommendations would be ready for for the council’s consideration; the memo sets a Dec. 14 deadline.

“We just don’t want this going on and on for months on end, because a lot of this is important to the community, as well as the council, especially if there are some ballot measures we need to work out,” he said.

Jones conveyed a similar sentiment, but was more direct on the duplication issue.

“There’s a lot of comprehensive work that’s already being done and I just feel like any work that the Charter Review Commission does would not be as comprehensive and thought out as what these individual initiatives are doing,” he said in regards to climate change and public safety. “One of the things I don’t want to see is a whole lot of proposals that are not thoroughly vetted and researched, and not well thought out, coming to council for us to have to make decisions on.”

Meredith Muller, a San Jose resident who spoke to the commission Monday, said given the breadth of the issue, their ideas about a standalone climate commission would enrich rather than repeat existing work by the city.

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“There are a lot of common-sense policy initiatives that members of our community have ideas on, and that should be part of the conversation on how we address this existential crisis,” she said.

Mica Estremera, a steering committee member of the “Reimagining Public Safety” group, objected to how he and his colleagues are being pitted against the commission.

“The city should have input from both these bodies,” he said. “Why wouldn’t you want to welcome any and all efforts from the community?”

Estremera added that the discord from the latest memo risks sending a bad message on the city’s reform stance. He was one of several members who resigned en masse from an initial incarnation of his advisory group, and rejoined only after getting reassurances their findings would be presented directly to the city council rather than being vetted first by the city manager.

“The council has received unmistakable communication about what needs to happen,” he said. “The commission should finish its work.”

The city’s rules and government committee will formally review the memo from Jones and Jimenez on Wednesday. If the committee approves its prioritization recommendation, it would be heard by the full city council Nov. 2.

Source : https://www.eastbaytimes.com/2021/10/26/san-jose-charter-commissioners-stand-firm-on-police-oversight-climate-work-after-city-memo/

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