CSJCC And Town Council Will Resume Discussion On Police Accountability On November 1, 2022. Hanneke Offers Justification For Cutting Off Discussion At Previous Meeting

Photo: The Noun Project. Creative Commons

The Community Safety and Social Justice Committee (CSSJC) came to the October 17 Town Council meeting (see also here) to discuss their dissatisfaction with the response of the council and the Amherst Police Department to their concerns about the incident on July 5 involving nine Amherst youths and two police officers. That discussion was halted by Councilor Mandi Jo Hanneke (at large), who used the provision in Section 2.10(c) of the Amherst Home Rule Charter to postpone discussion of a motion put forward by Michele Miller (District 1) until the next meeting. Many councilors and almost all of the CSSJC members were frustrated and upset with Hanneke’s use of the charter provision and voiced their objections at the CSSJC meeting that continued beyond the abrupt adjournment of the council meeting.

The discussion about what to do next resumed at the joint meeting of the Town Council and the Finance Committee the next day (10/18). Council President Lynn Griesemer (District 2) had surveyed most of the members of the council and the CSSJC to find a mutually acceptable date for a complete discussion of concerns about systemic racism in the police department, settling on Tuesday, November 1 at 6:30 p.m., which worked well for most members whom she contacted from the two groups. The purpose of postponing the discussion about racism instead of taking it up at the Finance Committee meeting was to enable that committee to  begin the budgeting process as planned.  

Hanneke Offers Justification For Her Decision To Halt Debate 
Before the capital projects discussion could begin however, Hanneke read a prepared statement about her reasoning for putting a stop to discussion of Miller’s motion, which was to form a committee of stakeholders who would evaluate the response of the town to the July 5 incident and bring a proposal back to the council on how to move forward in seeking a satisfactory resolution grounded in restorative justice. Most of Hanneke’s statement is given below. The complete statement can be read here.

“Last night I used my charter right to postpone for a motion that was made during the last minutes of a council ‘time limited’ discussion, a discussion which was noticed under discussion items, not action items, and for which councilors had no opportunity to prepare, no ability to think in solitude, either ahead of time or during the meeting, about the reasons to support or oppose the motion. Through no fault of any councilor, I was completely unprepared to discuss, consider, or even contemplate the motion last night. So, I invoked my right as a councilor to postpone the debate and vote to give me time.

“I knew there would be opposition and disappointment to using this right that all 13 of us have to ask for more time to do what we have been elected to do. It was not comfortable. It was not enjoyable. At the time, I knew I was not in a safe, tolerant, or compassionate space to use the charter right. But I did, because I needed the time. Time that over the past day has been condemned by not just those watching but by you, my colleagues.

“I ask that we, as a full council and individually reflect on the values we have adopted.

“Respect: We value a culture of kindness, compassion, and respect for different points of view, experience, and knowledge.

“Grace: We value allowing people the space and time to be human, to make mistakes and to learn and grow from those mistakes; to experience adverse situations without thinking of themselves or others as lesser than; and to be their authentic selves.

“Teamwork: We value our colleagues, working in collaboration and taking pride in our collective work.

“Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity: We value the diversity of our residents, the inclusion of voices, ideas, and cultures that reflect Amherst’s rich personality and the creation of safe spaces and equal opportunities for participation.

“Tolerance: We value the expression of diverse perspectives, even when we don’t agree with them and we don’t put our own perspectives above others.

“I ask us, as a council, to think about what happened last night, not just after I postponed the discussion until today, but before that too, and in other meetings in the past 10 months. Have we been valuing a culture of kindness, compassion and respect?…Have we valued the expression of diverse perspectives, even when we don’t agree with them. …Let’s collectively figure out a way forward that uplifts our values and calls [others] into discussions, instead of pushing each other away and intimidating each other into staying silent because of the fear of the repercussions. I thank the councilors who have reached out to me to ask why I used my right to postpone, whether they agreed with my use or not.”

Strong Reactions To Hanneke’s Statement
The reaction to Hanneke’s statement was less than sympathetic. Miller said she appreciated the statement, “but there were people who needed to be heard last night, and they were not heard[as a result].”

Dorothy Pam (District 3) paraphrased a story from Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. about a person who pushed someone into a hole and then felt victimized because he hurt his arm.

In public comment, Vira Cage said she heard Hanneke’s statement about her feeling of being unsafe and unsupported, but that the “Amherst Nine” (the nine youths involved in the July 5 incident) also felt unsafe and unsupported. It was painful when they were not allowed to move safely, even though they were not causing problems. Cage said she also heard the police chief say that protocols were followed and the police would largely handle a future situation in the same way. 

Philip Avila, a member of the CSSJC and Chair of the Amherst Human Rights Commission, said he was unsure why Hanneke needed more time to consider a motion for groups to come together with town lawyers and staff in an advisory capacity to the largely white town council. “That is the ‘definition’ of white supremacy and white privilege,” he concluded.

Decision On Artificial Turf For Regional School Field Postponed Pending Board Of Health Opinion
Another item postponed from the October 17 Town Council meeting was the allocation of $900,000 from free cash to help finance the renovation of the high school track and enclosed athletic field. The plans put forth by the regional schools included artificial turf for the field because that surface could sustain heavier use and would require less maintenance than grass. However, several councilors raised concern about increased injuries associated with artificial turf and the danger it presents not only to athletes but to the water supply, due to PFAS chemicals that have been found to leach out of it.  In addition, its initial costs are about $1million more than grass.

Finance Director Sean Mangano said that the regional school district determines the playing surface, since the field is on its property, and it has chosen artificial turf. He suggested that questions about this choice be put to the school district. As far as the rest of the money needed for the $4.7 million project is concerned, Mangano said that the $900,000 would complete Amherst’s share because of an earlier capital allocation of $1.5 million and another $800,000 in borrowing in Community Preservation Act funds. He said that School Finance Director Doug Slaughter is working with the other three towns in the region to secure their funds, and a group is forming to raise money through donations. 

Cathy Schoen (District 1) and Jennifer Taub (District 3) wanted to hear recommendations from the Board of Health regarding the safety of artificial turf for athletes and the water supply. Further discussion and a vote were postponed until the November 21 council meeting. The Amherst Board of Health meets on November 10.

Four Capital Projects
The bulk of the meeting was devoted to a presentation by Budget Director Sean Mangano on the town’s four major capital projects (the elementary school, the Jones Library, a new fire station, and the Department of Public Works). Mangano presented his latest version of a model illustrating the impacts of changing costs depending on the schedule and financing of each project. This aspect of the meeting is covered in another Indy article in this issue. There was no discussion of the budget process. There will be a public hearing on the budget at the Town Council meeting on November 21.

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