At the first meeting of the Charlottesville Police Civilian Review Board, members said they wanted to add a ninth representative: attorney Jeff Fogel.
The CRB, which is tasked with reviewing police actions and policy, was initially appointed by the City Council in May, and members will serve single-year terms. It will be responsible for defining its mission and creating bylaws and procedures for how it reviews police complaints and other matters.
Its eighth and most recent member was added last month when councilors voted unanimously to appoint activist Rosia Parker, who had initially been denied membership, along with Fogel.
However, at the first meeting of the board on Wednesday, members were concerned that an even number of members could result in too many tied votes. While Fogel had been a popular choice among community activists, his addition to the board would have to go before City Council for approval.
In an email, city spokesman Brian Wheeler said both the size of the board and its membership are ultimately determined by City Council, “and this follows the same process as all council-appointed boards and commissions.”
Current members include Parker, retired medical patient care technician Gloria Beard, University of Virginia law professor Josh Bowers, criminal defense investigator and mitigation specialist Sarah Burke, activist Don Gathers, attorney Juan Gonzalez, community activist Katrina Turner and artist and community volunteer Guillermo Ubilla.
On Wednesday, members described frustration with the timing of the meeting, which had been announced the day before by city officials.
“I hope this isn’t indicative of what the city thinks of the work we do,” said Gathers.
Future meetings will be scheduled by the board, which decided to meet every second and fourth Tuesday of the month, so as not to interfere with City Council meetings.
The board has been allotted nine months to work out its bylaws and details, including how it will interact with the Charlottesville Police Department and whether a liaison from CPD would be present at meetings.
During the first public comment section, former board candidate Evan Brown asked the members if they had a plan to handle complaints about police and arrests during the Unite the Right anniversary weekend.
Gathers recommended filing complaints “through the proper channels” and emailing the board. However, with so much yet to be established, members were quick to point out they weren’t sure the extent of what they could do yet.
“Until we get bylaws written, we’re somewhat of a paper dagger,” said Bowers.
Members will take turns setting up the agendas for each meetings, with Gathers setting the agenda for Aug. 14. The hope is that it will allow each member of the board to contribute, said Burke.
Late last year, as city officials were still reeling from the violence and fallout of last year’s white supremacist rally, the council elected to dissolve the Citizens’ Advisory Panel in favor of a new independent review board.
According to the city, there were 25 applications before an initial review cut out eight non-city residents who applied. Seven later withdrew their applications, leaving 10 applicants.
In May, Fogel, Parker and Helen Plaisance were denied appointments to the board. This caused strife among the chosen members, who penned a letter condemning the City Council’s decision, which Turner read aloud at a meeting in June.
“We cannot help but feel that our work has been compromised before it has even begun,” Turner said, reading from the letter. “It is critical that the public see the Civilian Review Board as legitimate. But the manner of selection has made that difficult.”
The review board’s letter also referenced a letter that former Albemarle Commonwealth’s Attorney Denise Lunsford wrote to the council in May on behalf of the Southern States Police Benevolent Association, which questioned the legality of the CRB.
On Wednesday, members were split on whether a new letter from Lunsford warranted a response, ultimately deciding to leave that discussion for later. Members decided to work on drafting mission statements to discuss the next time they meet, which is 6:30 p.m. Aug. 14 at CitySpace.