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Changes to Citizens Review Board appear likely

AIRPORT_RESPONSE
TODD SUMLIN - tsumlin@charlotteobserver.com
City Manager Ron Carlee

The Charlotte City Council appears poised to reform how a citizen board monitors police discipline after the full council heard an outline of proposed changes Monday.

City Manager Ron Carlee said the changes to the Citizens Review Board – which include the ability of the board to review the full internal affairs file in a case – would strengthen the review process. No council member offered significant criticism.

Matt Newton, an attorney and spokesman for the group Citizens Review Board Now, said the board now has “a minimum of tools” to do its job. He said there are other changes his group would like, such as subpoena power, but he said the changes would create more of a “level playing field.”

Council members heard an outline of the changes at its dinner meeting Monday. They are scheduled to take a final vote Nov. 25.

The changes were prompted by an Observer investigation in February that found the Citizens Review Board had never ruled in favor of a resident since it was formed 16 years ago.

The 11-member volunteer panel hears complaints from residents upset with Charlotte-Mecklenburg police disciplinary decisions made after Internal Affairs investigations. The City Council established the board to restore public confidence in the department after three unarmed African-Americans were killed by white officers.

Mayor-elect Patrick Cannon, a Democratic council member, helped create the board in the 1990s. He asked Carlee at Monday’s meeting whether “everything has been done to give this board enough teeth.”

Carlee said he thought the changes were substantial and important.

He said he met with police Chief Rodney Monroe even before he became manager in April.

“His comments in that meeting are reflective of the collaboration that has occurred,” Carlee said. Monroe agreed at the time that changes need to be made, Carlee said.

Seventy-nine people have filed complaints with the review board. Members met behind closed doors – first with residents, then with police – and voted to dismiss almost every case without a formal hearing. For the last several months, a number of groups, including the NAACP, have attended council meetings urging the city to make changes to the board.

Under the recommendations, residents would no longer face unusually strict criteria to get full hearings.

They would have to show “substantial evidence that an error occurred” instead of a “preponderance of the evidence” for the board to grant a full hearing.

The proposal would also make it easier for residents to win their cases. They now must present a “preponderance of the evidence” the police chief abused his discretion when deciding discipline for an officer.

With the changes, they would have to prove only “the greater weight of evidence” indicates “the chief of police clearly erred.”

Another change is that the board will have access to the full Internal Affairs file. Carlee said if the Citizens Review Board believes something is missing from the file, the policy will specifically allow for the board to request any Internal Affairs document related to the case.

Residents would also have longer to file an appeal to the board, from seven days under today’s policy to 30 days.

Some said the review board as currently construed is not as ineffective as some critics have said.

Republican Warren Cooksey said a number of residents have filed lawsuits – and won settlements – against CMPD. Those cases didn’t go before the Citizens Review Board, he said.

Democrat John Autry said he had spoken with CMPD captains about the issue.

He said he was told “the reason CRB hasn’t overturned any decision is because Internal Affairs must be doing a pretty good job.”

Newton said he would like for the review board to be able cross-examine officers accused of misconduct. He also said he would like for the board to have subpoena power, but that would require legislation from the General Assembly in Raleigh.

“That needs to be taken up with the state,” he said.

In other action:

• City Attorney Bob Hagemann received a 10 percent raise, bumping his total pay from $189,596 to $208,556.

Council members voted 8-3 in favor of the increase.

Council members Michael Barnes, Andy Dulin and LaWana Mayfield voted no. Mayor-elect Patrick Cannon had left the meeting and he was counted as a yes vote.

Hagemann has led the city’s successful efforts, so far, to keep control of Charlotte Douglas International Airport. The General Assembly passed legislation to transfer operational control to a 13-member commission, which the city is fighting in court.

Barnes said he was in favor of a 6 percent increase.

He said Hagemann has done a good job, in working on the airport and in negotiating a deal to keep the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte for at least six years.

But he questioned council’s decision to base Hagemann’s evaluation on those two issues.

“If he had lost the airport and the Panthers would we have fired him?” Barnes asked.

• Council members also approved spending $410,000 to staff exits at Charlotte Douglas for nine months.

The Transportation Security Administration recently told the city it would no longer staff the exits, from the secure concourses to the ticketing area, as of Jan. 1. The city will enter into a contract with G4S Secure Solutions to staff the exits until it can find a permanent solution.

• Council members voted unanimously to express concern to the N.C. Department of Transportation over its plans to build noise walls along Interstate 77, which could be widened.

The noise walls that have been proposed for north of the I-77 and I-85 interchange didn’t draw much concern from the city. But city staff members and council members are concerned that walls proposed for I-77 and I-277 would block motorists’s views of uptown.

The walls are designed to shield nearby residents from noise from traffic. But council members saw a presentation that showed the walls limiting the views of uptown skyscrapers.

Harrison: 704-358-5160
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