“What? You want me to go to a Planning Commission meeting? . . . Boorrriinggg.”
Not so. This past week Porter Venn and Kevin Scott had their hearing for a Conditional Use Permit so that they might open REVOLUTIONS, an entertainment venue at 350 Georgia Street here in Vallejo. The part that was not boring were the speakers and Commissioners that spoke out in favor of the Permit and, wait for it, the removal of some of the conditions negotiated to by the city. Yes, the citizen body Planning Commission actually made it less cumbersome to start a business downtown. Faith be restored.
Checks and balances. In my last interview for appointment to the Planning Commission another of the questions that was asked was how I would feel if a decision that I made was overturned by the City Council. You see, in our State and Local Municipal Code, the City Council is the appeals board for any Commission decision. So when the Planning Commission turned down Orcem’s request for a Permit, Orcem appealed the decision to the City Council. Democracy in Action. My response was, “I would hope that my written finding would provide you with the information that you would need to understand my decision, and that having checks and balances is the most important part of our system of democracy.”
At this recent meeting of the Commission the exciting part for me was, to be able to stand up at the podium, to speak and to be heard with my comments on the record. This is not something to be taken lightly. This is how we can affect local policies without having to wait for every other November to vote. A number of my friends and associates were there and they too stood up to be heard. I will admit that I surprised myself with a bit of involuntary stage fright. My voice quivered a bit, while my face flushed, but I forged on undaunted and said my piece. My fellow speakers were eloquent and persuasive and the resolution passed in favor of our friends. (I have attached a link to the video below so that you might hear the comments.)
While this is a desirable outcome, this cannot be where this thought ends: Checks and balances. Here in Vallejo, we are still in search of our next Police Chief. The field is narrowing and soon the City council will vote to approve the decision by the City Manager’s Office. The new chief will start this new job with a plateful. Low staffing levels, constrained budget and a culture that was not of his/her making. The new chief will not have much influence over how much money the Police Department receives, the pie is only so big. They can push for new hires, although Vallejo has had open, and unfilled, positions for many months now. Even the culture will take some time to change, and only then in incremental movements.
But, and there is always a but, there is one thing that they can do, and do right away. The new Police Chief may put an end to the self-review process that happens after each police shooting. Yes, here in Vallejo, the pinnacle of Democracy in Action, the Vallejo Police Department has one less Check and Balance than the rest of us. Let me say this in a slightly different way. When a Vallejo Police Officer uses his weapon, the entire event is then reviewed by the very person who trained them. Yup, you read that right. The person who told them that it would be okay to use their weapon, in certain circumstances, is the one who reviews the shooting. No independent review. No citizen commission. Just who ever said it would be okay, gets to once again say . . . okay. Maybe it is just me but this seems a bit self-serving. While I know that the members of our police force are officers with integrity, I admit that I would have a bias to support the very person who just employed the very skills that I trained them to use. Why? My reputation as an expert, my job as the trainer and even my sense of self-worth would be at risk if I were to find fault. This is not a fair thing to ask of any one. So I ask this.
I ask that the City Council consider a resolution to have the Solano County Sherriff investigate all VPD excessive use of force claims and all officer involved shootings, before the new chief is hired. This will take any pressure off of the new chief. For those of you who do not know, small factoid, the Sherriff is the only constitutionally recognized law enforcement official, in that they are elected and can be removed or replaced by popular vote. I say, since we do not have a citizen’s Police Commission, let us have the Sherriff take an impartial look at the complaints our police department is receiving. I mean, we all need checks and balances.
Thanks for following along with me.
Also, please take a moment to write to our Council Members and express to them why you think that I would be a positive addition to that Commission. Their contact information may be found here:
Until next time,
Comments start at minute 0:56:00 – http://vallejo.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=3&clip_id=2406