VOL. 130 | NO. 145 | Tuesday, July 28, 2015
Wharton Says No Major Changes To CLERB
By Bill Dries
The administration of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. came out Monday, July 27, against any significant changes to the city’s Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board after a nearly six year effort to revive the long-dormant body.
Word of the administration’s position came during a Monday meeting led by city council member Wanda Halbert bringing together all of the different groups involved in the remake of CLERB.
Demar Roberts, an administrative assistant to Chief Administrative Officer Jack Sammons, said the administration felt “we have not allowed the current Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board ordinance to work itself out.”
Roberts added that the administration’s position is the city “should remain with the current ordinance on the books today.” That would include adding a working website for the board as well as some staff to handle day-to-day administrative work.
Brad Watkins of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center said the position is “completely different” than what Wharton said to him in a Thursday telephone conversation.
“That phone call never happened,” Watkins said with sarcasm.
During a break in the session, Roberts acknowledged the position was a change for the administration, telling Watkins, “CLERB has not been able to do their jobs.”
“Because they didn’t exist,” Watkins replied.
Later Watkins, whose group along with Memphis United has been among those pushing for more power for the board to investigate allegations of police misconduct over a six-year period, added, “No intellectually honest person believes the administration just came to that position.”
Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong said the discussion of more powers for the board to investigate has been sending “mixed messages” and that CLERB appointees haven’t been heard from.
Rev. Ralph White, chairman of the board, said later that the long-dormant board has been “like a stepchild to the system” and that the board should have the subpoena power.
“I wonder where this mess came from,” he said referring to the multiple versions of the ordinance. “This is not the way you do business. We are playing with people’s lives.”
The Memphis City Council was poised to vote earlier this month on third and final reading of an ordinance giving the board subpoena powers as well as the ability to seek police Internal Affairs investigative files as IA was investigating allegations of misconduct.
The vote was delayed again after the ordinance was amended to take out both provisions on the advice of city council attorney Allan Wade.
Because of that legal advice, council member Kemp Conrad said Monday that Wharton made the right call.
"The most substantive changes favored by the anti police coalition of Memphis United were deemed illegal by our counsel," Conrad said. "Mayor Wharton was right by supporting transparency and police officers simultaneously through this practical approach outlined today"
Watkins said this past Friday, there was another amendment that took out the power of the board to investigate such allegations if they happened more than a year before.
The proposal has been pending since last year and was delayed then to give the administration a chance to review the changes.