Marathon Session Of Town Council Produces No Action On July 5 Police Incident


Photo: Carl Heyerdahl, Unsplash

This was a hybrid meeting held both in the Town Room of Town Hall and on Zoom and was recorded. The recordings can be viewed here (part 1) and here (part 2).

There was only one action item on the agenda for the joint meeting on Monday night (November 1) of the Amherst Town Council and the Community Safety and Social Justice Committee (CSSJC): to continue discussion of a motion made by Councilor Michele Miller (District 1) at the Council’s last meeting concerning the July 5 incident involving the Amherst Police (APD) and a group of mostly BIPOC youth and come to a vote on it.

That motion was:
to refer the matter of the incident occurring on July 5th involving two police offers and nine youths to the CSSJC (Community Safety and Social Justice Committee), HRC (Human Rights Commission), and the AHRA (African Heritage Reparation Assembly) to collaboratively review the incident with the input of the DEI department and other appropriate staff, and in consultation with the town attorney, for the purposes of making a recommendation to the Town Council to repair the harm and reconcile the incident, by November 21, 2022.

Miller told the participants at the joint meeting that the motion offered a course of action to address concerns in a manner that would produce reconciliation and healing and would involve “committees that are composed largely of Black and Brown residents in a community in which an overwhelmingly disproportionate level of power is in the hands of white people.” Going into this meeting, the measure had the unanimous support of the CSSJC and seemed to have the support of the majority councilors but after six hours of discussion and public comment, and a proposed revision from Miller, the council voted 6-7 to reject it (see below) and gave little indication that they were near agreement on a concrete course of action when they adjourned at 12:44 a.m. Councilors agreed to take up a substitute motion by Council President Lynn Griesemer at their next meeting (November 7) with a caveat from Griesemer that the  meeting has a packed agenda and only a limited amount of time can be allocated to the ongoing deliberations.

Monday’s  joint meeting was scheduled after Councilor Mandi Jo Hanneke had invoked her privilege, under Section 2.10 (c) of the Town Charter, to immediately halt debate and a vote on Miller’s motion at the council meeting on October 17, postponing it until the next scheduled Council meeting. Griesemer then erroneously halted not only debate on the motion but all discussion of the July 5 incident. In addition, she told the  CSSJC that their deliberations on the incident had to end as well, and threatened to have CSSJC members ejected from the meeting, actions for which she apologized at the opening of Monday night’s meeting. The October 17 meeting had been fraught even prior to deliberations because Griesemer had imposed a one-hour limit on the discussion in spite of strong objections from the CSSJC that the time allotted was insufficient. The discussion on November 7 will be a continuation of a discussion of a motion put forth by Griesemer, and will apparently take place solely among members of the Council. Griesemer did not indicate whether further input would be sought from the CSSJC.

Following Monday’s marathon session, the Council seemed further away from agreement than when they first took up the issue on October 17. That outcome might have been predictable to regular observers of the Council. Six separate motions had been added to the packet too late to appear on the agenda, and two of those had been revised after being placed in the packet. One additional motion was offered from the floor by Councilor Ana Devlin Gauthier giving councilors seven motions to consider and having to process a lot of new material during the meeting. With no well-defined procedure in place to combine or modify these motions, and with most councilors expressing approval of some aspects of some of the motions, the discussion just grew more chaotic as it proceeded. Following the defeat of Miller’s motion, councilors began to complain about the late hour and about no longer being able to think straight or clearly express themselves. They then spent a good deal of time debating whether they ought to adjourn, which they finally did at 12:44 a.m.,no closer to any resolution. 

What We Can Say For Certain About What Happened At Monday Night’s Meeting

  • At least 99 people attended (including all 13 members of the Council, all 6 members of the CSSJC, and 75 members of the public, as well as town staff including Town Manager Paul Bockelman, at the meeting’s peak.
  • 21 members of the public spoke during two public comment sessions. Some spoke in both sessions. All spoke of the need for the Council to take action in response to the July 5 incident. Nearly all endorsed the recommendations of the CSSJC (see below and here).
  • There was acknowledgement at the beginning of the meeting that the incident and its aftermath has not been handled well and that action by the Council was long past due, and Council President Lynn Griesemer apologized for improperly cutting off all discussion of CSSJC’s recommendations at the October 17 meeting, following Hanneke’s invocation of the town charter to immediately halt debate on Miller’s motion.
  • The meeting proceeded as follows: Public comment; Miller introduces substitute motion to the main motion on the agenda (look here for the full text of Miller’s substitute motion and her comprehensive rationale for the proposed changes); brief introduction of all of the substitute motions; more public comment; deliberation amongst the town councilors on all of the other substitute motions; vote on Miller’s motion (defeated 6-7); motion from the floor to adopt Griesermer’s revised Motion #6 , discussion of that motion, and postponement of the discussion until November 7; adjournment.
  • All members of CSSJC spoke. Most emphasized that conflicts between the police and BIPOC residents had been well documented by the Community Safety Working Group, that specific interventions and remedies had been proposed over a year ago (see here and here), and that the Council continues to ignore those recommendations and continues to choose not to act. (Note: the Council has yet to reply to a request from the CSSJC for a response to the July 5 incident that was sent multiple times, beginning more than three months ago). The CSSJC emphasized six things they believe are needed to address the July 5 incident: 

1. An apology from the APD and the Town Council for the July 5 incident and its subsequent poor handling

2. Accountability for the police officers involved in the misconduct

3. Recognition of harm done to the youths and their parents, repair of that harm, and healing for them and for the community. This is to include the creation of a Victims’ Compensation Fund.
4. Adoption of new protocols to prevent incidents like this from happening again. This is to include adoption of Post training protocols for police engagement with youth.
5. Adoption of new protocols for handling incidents like this when they do happen 

6. Creation of a Resident Oversight Board to review complaints about the police.

  • Six substitute motions (in addition to Miller’s original motion, which was already on the agenda) were placed in the council’s meeting packet at the last minute but not in time to be listed on the agenda. Each offered a course of action to address the July 5 incident. The original substitute motions can be read here and here.  An additional motion was offered from the floor by Councilor Ana Devlin Gauthier. And Griesemer offered from the floor a revision of her original substitute  Motion #6. There was considerable overlap in the motions with only one, revised Motion #6 (Griesemer), explicitly addressing each of the original recommendations of the CSSJC.

    The greatest difference among the motions was in who would undertake the work and how much time would be allocated to complete it. The original motion and substitute Motions #1 (Miller), #2 (Griesemer) and #3 (Andy Steinberg) proposed to hand the work off to ad hoc committees composed of members of other town social justice committees (e.g. CSSJC, Human Rights Commission, African Heritage Reparations Assembly), representatives of the Town Council, the director of the  Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) department, and the APD, with the motions proposing different compositions for those committees. Motions #4 (Hanneke) and #6 (Griesemer) proposed to hand the work off to the Town Manager. Motion #5 Shalini Bahl-Milne and Cathy Schoen proposed to hand off the work to the DEI director. These last three motions differ as to scope with Hanneke’s motion asking the Town Manager only to explore the creation of a Resident Oversight Board for the APD, Bhal-Milne and Schoen’s asking for the same as well as a review of the July 5 incident, while Griesemer’s asks the Town Manager to explore each of the CSSJC’s recommendations. Motion #7, which was made from the floor (Devlin Gauthier), proposes to charge the Council vice president with urgently seeking a path for addressing all of the concerns raised by the CSSJC. (Devlin Gauthier is the vice president). The motions varied in terms of how long the actions should take, ranging from three weeks (Devlin Gauthier) to indefinite (Hanneke).
  • There was no concrete deliberative structure to sort through the motions. Following the introduction of Miller’s substitute for the main motion, each councilor was allowed to briefly introduce their substitute motion. This was followed by a general discussion in which the councilors discussed the pros and cons of the various motions, with several saying that they appreciated elements of multiple motions and would be open to combining them, with the greatest interest in substitute Motions 1, 6, and 7. But there was no provision for combining motions, and efforts to amend produced the kind of confusion and disagreement that is common when a large group tries to edit a document together.
  • Throughout the meeting, people spoke passionately (see gallery of comments here).
  • There was little deliberation between the CSSJC and the Council. CSSJC was invited to speak prior to consideration of the motions but was excluded from the discussion once deliberation on the motions began. The Council’s discussion encompassed a range of issues that have been roiling the community for several months, revealing fault lines around racial justice in the community.
  • The Discussion:
  • CSSJC raised many of the issues that they had posed to the council at their October 17 joint meeting and reiterated their feelings that social justice and the needs of BIPOC residents do not seem to be a priority for this council, and that procedure is often used to limit discussion of important social justice issues.  They also noted that a recent letter from William Stewart, a white parent who was present on July 5, that was critical of police conduct that night and of the APD’s report on the incident, was regarded with more credibility by members of the Council than the amassed testimony from members of the BIPOC community about the incident and, in fact, about longstanding problems with the APD. They pointed to a recent incident where Hampshire College administrators were critical of APD conduct on their campus, indicating that problems with APD protocols are not being addressed. They returned to the 10 unanswered questions they had been asking the council and posed once again at the October 17 meeting.
  1. When will the harm done to the families of the Amherst Nine be addressed and repaired?
  2. Why has it taken so long to get the internal report from the police?
  3. Why hasn’t the Council responded to the CSSJC, despite multiple requests over the last three months?
  4. After the police admitted to “regrettable” behavior, why hasn’t the department issued an apology? 
  5. Why do the Town’s responses seem to blame the victims? 
  6. Why haven’t the officers involved been held accountable for their actions?
  7. Will protocols to prevent this from happening again be put into place?
  8. Will protocols for a more effective way of dealing with incidents like this be established?
  9. Does the Council agree that an independent (resident) oversight board is needed to hear complaints?
  10. Does the Council agree that a Victims’ Compensation Fund is needed to promote restorative justice?
  • Councilors who have been reluctant to embrace any or all of CSSJC’s recommendations or who question the gravity of this incident include:

Those who doubt the credibility of the claims of the BIPOC youth and/or their parents;

Those who feel that the significance of the incident has been overblown;

Those who feel that the CSSJC does not represent or speak for the BIPOC community (but assumes a posture that it does);

Those who feel that the remedies called for are unfair to the police or that the APD are not receiving the praise that they deserve;

Those who worry that the remedies recommended by CSSJC will require financial commitments that the town may not be able to or should not take on;

Those who feel it is either not the Council’s job to resolve this issue or that the Council has already failed miserably to address it  and that it needs to be turned over to some other body or person;

Those who feel that the town government is not receiving sufficient credit or gratitude for creating, all in the previous year, the DEI office, the civilian responder program (CRESS), and a reparations program for people of African heritage.

  • Nonetheless, at several moments it appeared that the Council might be developing some common ground. At such moments, however, someone would speak in support of the police or question some aspect of the CSSJC’s work, or suggest that the council does not have all of the facts about what transpired on July 5 and that more information is needed before any action can be taken. Each of these interjections deflated the momentum and solidarity that had been building.
  • Councilors voted 6-7 to reject Miller’s revised motion. Miller, Devlin Gauthier, Dorothy Pam (District 3), Pam Rooney (District 4), Jennifer Taub (District 3), and Ellisha Walker (at large) voted in favor of the motion. Pat DeAngelis (District 2), Griesemer, Hanneke, Anika Lopes (District 4), Cathy Schoen (District 1), and Andy Steinberg (at large) voted against. 
  • Griesemer moved to adopt a revision of her revised Motion #6 that explicitly called for addressing each of the recommendations of the CSSJC and charged the Town Manager with overseeing that work.
  • There was considerable debate on whether town staff, inluding the DEI director and the Town Manager currently have the work capacity to take on the assignments of addressing the CSSJC recommendations.
  • After midnight the quality of the discussion deteriorated considerably, leading some councilors to suggest postponing further discussion for another meeting. That discussion was contentious.
  • None of the motions were adopted.
  • The meeting adjourned at 12:44 a.m. Discussion of Griesemer’s revised Motion #6 will resume at the next Town Council meeting (November 7).

Read More: 

Coming next week. A News Analysis – Council’s Failure To Take Action On July 5 Incident Exposes Fault Lines In Town Government.

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3 thoughts on “Marathon Session Of Town Council Produces No Action On July 5 Police Incident

  1. …”councilors began to complain about the late hour and about no longer being able to think straight”…
    One has to then wonder how the they feel about the emergency service (police, fire/ems/dispatchers, some dpw) personnel who must manage to do “the right thing” (regardless) when they routinely work beyond, if not well beyond, an 8 hour day, or a 40 hours, or a 5 day week.
    How familiar such a complaint sounds about and from those who riled against Town Meeting and the time it took.
    Just saying’…

    PS Thank goodness Congress reconvened after a long day to count the votes.

    James Murphy

  2. I dozed off about four hours into the proceedings and had to cover the final two hours from the recording. It showed (IMO) that the discussion had indeed deteriorated and that the likelihood of this group reaching a sound decision at that point was small. I think that the overall poor handling of this incident by the APD and the town council reveals many of the ways that our town government is broken, but in this instance, I believe that the councilors exercised sound judgement in calling it a night (or a morning).

  3. This is a quote from a column by an Amherst resident, published in the Gazette in March of 2018: “I will enthusiastically vote “yes” on March 27 to adopt the new charter in Amherst, replacing the antiquated, inefficient, and elitist Town Meeting with a 13-member council that will convene year-round and be accessible and accountable to constituents.” I shall leave it to readers to decide just how much the reality that Amherst is now living deviates from what was promised by Charter proponents.

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