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Akron civilian police review board created by charter amendment could be changed without voter OK

Judi Hill talks about charter amendment
Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
People walk across South High Street near the Harold K. Stubbs Justice Center, the headquarters of the Akron Police Department, in downtown Akron.

Ideastream Public Media is answering your questions about the two different plans for a civilian police oversight board in Akron. Submit your question using this form, or call 216-916-6476.

In the upcoming election, Akron voters are considering Issue 10, a charter amendment that would create a civilian police review board. Council already passed anordinancethat creates a review board with a slightly different structure.

Tom asked: “Suppose the ballot measure passes in November. How would future changes to the board (e.g. its membership, operations, scope, etc.) be made? Must those be accomplished by citizen initiative only?”

There are two different ways to change the Akron city charter: citizens can gather signatures on a petition to put an amendment on the ballot – as they did for Issue 10 – or city council can pass legislation to put a charter amendment before voters.

Bill Rich, chairman of the Summit County Board of Elections, said some changes to the review board might not require another charter amendment.

“It really depends on the level of detail that’s included in the charter amendment. If the charter amendment leaves to council decision-making about a lot of the details, then you’re not so likely to have to amend the charter,” Rich said.

Some details of the board are already spelled out in the charter amendment, he added, while other specifics will be decided by city council if the amendment passes.

“Issue 10 doesn’t prescribe all the details surrounding the police oversight board,” Rich said.

The charter amendment was created by community leaders in response to calls for police reform over the past few years, most recently re-ignited after the fatal police shooting of Jayland Walker this summer. Citizens gathered more than 7,000 signatures on a petition to put Issue 10 on the November ballot.

Those who are advocating for Issue 10, like Akron NAACP President Judi Hill, have said the key is that it would be a permanent change.

“Once it becomes a charter amendment, it is in … and we have to make the changes. And that’s what we’re working toward. We’re working toward permanency,” Hill said.

On the other hand, the permanence of Issue 10 is one of the main sources of concern for its opponents.

Some people, including Council Vice President Jeff Fusco, instead favor the recently passed ordinance developed by Mayor Dan Horrigan’s office, because it can be changed by future legislation.

“A charter is harder to change,” Fusco said.

But Rich at the board of elections said if the amendment passes, council will have to pass an ordinance officially creating the board and describing its role and powers.

Details in that ordinance could be changed by future legislation, rather than amending the charter, he said.

Rich is also a professor emeritus of law at the University of Akron and shared his perspective of how specific the charter amendment’s language is.

“I think it leaves the details to council, by way of implementing legislation. I don’t think it goes overboard in specifying the details that might prove to be unworkable and need to be changed,” he said.

One example of a change that would require a new charter amendment is the number of members on the review board and how they are appointed. Issue 10 specifically states that the board will be made up of nine people – six appointed by city council and three by the mayor.

But the qualifications of the board members are more broadly defined, Rich added. There are no specific experience-based requirements to be on the board - just recommendations. For example, it’s recommended that board members have experience in law enforcement, mental health services and working with underserved communities.

“I think the drafters of the charter amendment were careful not to set too much of that in stone, recognizing, probably, that it might be too difficult,” Rich said.

The ordinance passed by council, on the other hand, specifically asks for at least one person with a background in law enforcement, among other requirements.

Anna Huntsman covers Akron, Canton and surrounding communities for Ideastream Public Media.