Five city council members and the mayor of Madison introduced an amendment in April to remove the language requiring the Police Civilian Oversight Board to have quotas for people of certain racial and professional backgrounds.
The amendment is primarily due to the ongoing federal lawsuit against the city by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty on behalf of local conservative blogger, David Blaska, according to a statement by Madison City Attorney Michael Haas.
Blaska’s suit claims he applied to be a member on the board but was ineligible for nine of the eleven seats because he is white. Blaska claims the board is imposing unconstitutional racial quotas.
Currently, the ordinance states the board must have at least one Black, Asian, Latino, Native American and LGBTQ+ member, respectively. It also requires at at least one member have experience in the fields of mental health, substance abuse treatment and youth advocacy, according to the ordinance.
The proposed amendment removes all language requiring the the board be composed of these groups.
District 2 Alderperson Patrick Heck said the board will be able to continue to do its work in good faith. He stressed how the desire from within the community to volunteer themselves for serving on the board will be able to trump any attempts to undermine its work.
“I think it’s unfortunate that this is a step we have to take, to remove that specific language from the ordinance,” Heck said. “But I think the city, Common Council and the mayor are on the same page that we’ll continue to have an incredibly diverse Civilian Oversight Board that does represent impacted communities.”
While the board has no jurisdiction or decision-making power over the Madison police or fire departments, they do have the ability to provide general feedback from the community and contract an independent monitor who would have the power to conduct official investigations.
The board has spent a majority of its existence attempting to define its role in the city, Heck said. Currently, the board is attempting to hire an independent monitor — something which has proven difficult.
After a year-long search for an independent monitor, the board’s lone finalist, Byron Bishop, withdrew his name from the process, forcing the board to start their search again from scratch.
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“Ultimately, the decision regarding whether to change the ordinance is up to the Council and the Board will move forward with new members that are appointed by the Council as the terms of current members expire,” Haas said in a statement. “There are five terms of current members expiring this September.”
City council will likely vote on the amendment during its next meeting May 10, Haas said in an interview with The Wisconsin State Journal.