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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Council Overrides Mayor’s Veto of PERA Ordinance; Plans to Hire Attorney to Fight Lawsuit

 
The Council took action to ensure that the proposed reforms for the City’s independent police review board (PERA) take effect as soon as possible. The Council voted resoundingly (12 in favor; 3 absent) to override the Mayor’s recent veto of the ordinance the Council approved two weeks ago which made key changes to improve PERA’s effectiveness and efficiency. Additionally, the Council introduced a resolution to hire an attorney to fight a lawsuit filed by the City Solicitor, which claims that only the Mayor has the authority to appoint an executive director for the agency. The resolution was referred to the Committee on Finance and will be considered next week.

Since 2002, the Executive Director of PERA has been hired by the Board. However, on Friday, January 29th, the City Solicitor filed an action challenging the Board’s power to hire, and claiming that the authority is the Mayor’s alone. On Monday, February 1st, the Mayor supported this action by vetoing the revised PERA ordinance.
 
Councilman Seth Yurdin, who along with Councilman Miguel Luna sponsored the amended PERA ordinance which was approved unanimously by the Council in January, stated that “It was a surprise that the Solicitor and Mayor would take such steps,” said Councilman Seth Yurdin, “as for over eight years, it has been the Board, not the Mayor, that has been responsible for hiring the executive director.” 
 
Referring to the lawsuit, Yurdin noted that, “The rationale for the complaint is murky. The Council wholeheartedly disagrees with the City Solicitor’s claim that PERA’s structure violates the City Charter, and further, we recognize that
the proper remedy would be for the Solicitor to challenge the law, not to file baseless lawsuits against the Council.”
 
In his veto message, Mayor Cicilline wrote that, “I worked very hard as a legislator and community activist to press for enactment of civilian review and even assisted in drafting some of the original ordinance language.” Councilman Miguel Luna, Chairman of the Special Commission to Study PERA, stated, “The veto raises more questions than it answers.” Luna continued, “If the mayor helped draft the original ordinance, and the original ordinance allows the PERA board to appoint the executive director, why is he only now saying that it violates the Charter? The amended ordinance the Council adopted continues to allow the PERA board to appoint the executive director. To imply this is a change from the original ordinance is disingenuous.” 
 
Key changes made to the PERA ordinance by Council include the following:
1)     The size of the PERA’s board will be reduced to nine (9) from twenty-two (22) members.
2)      PERA will continue to be responsible for hiring the executive director, as it has since the adoption of the original ordinance; Council will now approve the appointment.
3)      New responsibilities for the authority include a) creating and implementing community outreach programs; and b) reviewing and making recommendations regarding police department policies and training procedures.
4)      The executive director must be an attorney-at-law or have substantial public administration experience, or both.
5)      The executive director will be able to actively monitor any police internal investigation involving a citizen complaint alleging police misconduct, and any police internal investigation which the director believes would be in the city’s best interest for PERA to monitor.
6)      To ensure PERA has access to funds as per its approved allocation, PERA’s budget will be part of the City Council’s budget, and will be administered by the City Council.
 
The Council will move quickly to approve the resolution to retain an attorney to respond to the lawsuit brought by the City Solicitor’s office, and also will work to ensure that PERA continues to operate without disruption.