Police board spat is political, mayor says

Lawmakers urge council to reject panel nominees

October 22, 1999|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke lashed out yesterday at state lawmakers for attempting to block his nominations for the police civilian review board, saying that their criticism of his selection process was "politics dressed up to look like principle."

"I think they're doing the whole civilian review process a great disservice," Schmoke said. "I do not intend to submit a new group. I will let the next mayor do that.

"I will tell him that he would come under severe pressure to appoint people that they like."

But state lawmakers said no personal politics was involved.

Schmoke sent his recommendations for the nine citizen members of the board to the council two weeks ago, but the state lawmakers who created the board with legislation during the last General Assembly session say they oppose the nominees because the mayor did not publicize the board positions. The mayor said his nominees were based on recommendations from among community activists and people who participated in the community relations councils in the nine police districts.

In a letter and during council hearings in recent weeks, and at a news conference this week on the police shooting death of Larry Hubbard, Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV, Sen. Joan Carter Conway, Sen. Ralph M. Hughes and Del. Nathaniel T. Oaks have urged the City Council to reject the nominees so that the city can publicize the positions.

The debate has all but stalled the selection process for the board, which became an official body Oct. 1 and has drawn increasing attention in light of Hubbard's death. The council held a hearing on the nominees Wednesday and must take action for or against the nominations within the next two weeks.

If three council sessions pass before the council acts on the mayor's recommendations, the nominees automatically become board members.

The lawmakers are hoping that the council will reopen the selection process.

"We wanted to take the power away from [politicians] and give it to the [police community relations] councils," Mitchell said. "We discussed making this a public process. We had heard that the mayor and the police commissioner were picking the civilian review board."

Conway said she is looking for a fair and objective board, not a political body.

"I don't have an agenda," Conway said. "It is not political. I can't appoint a soul to that board and have no desire to do so."

Part of the controversy stems from questions about Schmoke's rejection of Grover Cleveland Oaks, the brother of Delegate Oaks, as a nominee to the board, city officials said. The mayor did not select Grover Oaks because it might be viewed as a political favor, city officials said.

Delegate Oaks never approached the mayor about his brother joining the board, and other lawmakers did not know about Grover Oaks' interest in becoming a nominee until after the mayor's appointments, officials said.

Mitchell, Conway and others maintain that they want to give the whole community a chance to participate.

The lawmakers had asked the mayor to post fliers on the bulletin boards of the police stations to publicize the positions. But that never happened.

Instead, they said, some nominees were recommended by police district commanders.

At least one nominee, George W. Collins, said yesterday that he was recommended by a Northern District commander and supports the lawmakers' objections to the selection process. "As far as I'm concerned, one of the most needed agencies in this city is a police, community or citizens review board that has the respect of the total community," Collins said.

The mayor acknowledged yesterday that the flier suggestion was made, but he did not answer questions about whether recommendations came from district commanders.

Schmoke said that lawmakers have never questioned the nominees' qualifications. But he said they could raise the issue during hearings on the candidates. In addition to Collins, the nominees are Charlene Ames, Winifred Ashby, William A. Brent, Doreen Rosenthal, Leonard Scott, Darlene Daisy Stauch, Cleoda R. Walker and Rusty White.

"If the City Council rejects these names based on the arguments by [the lawmakers], that will seriously undermine the integrity of the civilian review board," Schmoke said.

Pub Date: 10/22/99

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