VOL. 131 | NO. 159 | Wednesday, August 10, 2016
CLERB Powers Amended Again, Charter Amendment Possible
By Bill Dries
Memphis City Council members took another try Tuesday, Aug. 9, at giving the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board subpoena power in investigating allegations of police misconduct, not quite a year after its first try.
The result is a third rewrite attempt somewhere in the near future that will likely include a city charter amendment. And such a rewrite could involve the council getting directly involved in handling complaints of police misconduct.
The fix of the ordinance that reconstituted CLERB in November 2015 was supposed to make it clear that the board had to abide by the state’s open meetings law. But in the process lingering legal concerns about the council’s move to extend its subpoena power to the board in the 2015 ordinance surfaced again.
Council attorney Allan Wade said the council couldn’t give the power to anyone else.
So council member Worth Morgan included a fix Tuesday approved by the full council that has the council issue a subpoena for testimony and/or records with the council then meeting to hear the testimony or review the records with CLERB members as part of the meeting.
“It is to a meeting of the city council that CLERB members will have to attend,” Morgan explained. “It will really be a joint meeting. … I think that in itself is a little more complex than it should be. I don’t see any way around that unless we change the city charter.”
A charter amendment would have to be approved in a citywide referendum. A referendum ordinance would have to pass three readings for the question to go on the ballot. And Aug. 25 is the deadline for getting an item on the Nov. 8 election ballot.
Wade signed off on the latest CLERB compromise legally with the provision that the council will come up with procedures for such sessions including how they are conducted and who would question witnesses.
The subpoena power is seen as putting teeth in an ordinance that critics of CLERB claimed the body never had from its inception in the mid-1990s. The board didn’t meet for years at a time.
There is no guarantee that a police officer accused in a citizen’s complaint of misconduct would comply with the subpoena. If that officer did, he or she could and likely would refuse to answer questions based on their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination including against non-criminal administrative charges and civil lawsuits.
And the board can only make recommendations. It cannot file criminal charges.
Council chairman Kemp Conrad cast the only vote against the measure.
With no debate, Memphis City Council members voted Tuesday to approve the appointment of Michael Rallings as the city’s permanent police director at a salary of $219,000 a year.
Still to be worked out is undoing Rallings previously set retirement date so that he can fulfill a pledge to serve through 2019, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland’s current term of office.
Council member Martavius Jones delayed a final vote on his referendum ordinance that would put a city charter change requiring city government employees to live in the city of Memphis. The third and final reading of the referendum ordinance for the November ballot is now set for the Aug. 23 council meeting.
The council also approved Tuesday with no discussion the urban renewal plan for the Raleigh Springs Mall. The approval sets the stage for demolition of the 1970s era mall on the southeast corner of Yale Road and Austin Peay Highway in Raleigh.
The city’s plan is to convert the land into a park with a lake and a walking trail around the lake. There will also be a new city library and the police traffic precinct will move to the site along with a new police precinct to replace the Old Allen Station precinct, the city’s oldest police precinct building.