Mayor appoints 2 new members to Lawrence’s police review board; commissioners question board and its direction

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The Community Police Review Board has two new members following Tuesday’s Lawrence City Commission meeting, and commissioners briefly discussed the fraught board’s situation.

The commission voted 4-1 to approve Brenda Clary and Gregory Tempel to partial CPRB terms that expire Aug. 31, 2024. That brings the board to six current members out of seven total seats. The board’s last meeting, which was set for Feb. 9, was canceled because the board would not have had a quorum.

The mayor, currently Lisa Larsen, is tasked with appointing community members to serve on the city’s advisory boards. The appointments are typically on the commission’s consent agenda, a list of items that are considered routine and usually passed with one vote. But Commissioner Amber Sellers asked to discuss the CPRB appointments on Tuesday.

Sellers noted that she thought the applicants were qualified, but that she had shared some action items with city staff, and she was hoping those items would be reflected before any new members were appointed.

In retrospect, she said Wednesday, “action items” was probably not the best term to use, and that the connotation of that term “makes it seem like it’s way more intense than it actually is.” She said she had asked city staff questions about the onboarding process and training for the board members, and she wanted those questions answered before she voted for new appointees.

“What are we missing in the interim that we can be doing to make this board more cohesive, successful, and really getting together and picking up where the previous iterations of the board have left off and moving forward with their work, whatever that looks like?” Sellers said.

She said the CPRB has seen much attrition. Three members resigned around the same time in December, and one recent appointee stepped down earlier this month ahead of her first meeting.

“Something’s not sticking,” Sellers said. “So if there’s something we can do as a governing body to help with the onboarding, the maturation and whatever it is that they need to to be successful, I want to exhaust that before I throw two more people onto a board that may be dealing with, you know, whatever it is that they’re dealing with, from ongoing iterations of that board.”

Sellers said that as part of the governing body, she’s accountable for advisory board members, and without answers to her questions, she did not want to vote on new members. She was hoping the commission might delay the vote until its first March meeting, to give city staff time to answer her questions but still get the new CPRB members approved before that board’s next meeting on March 9.

Larsen during the meeting said she thought the CPRB candidates were good, and she wanted them to have time to get exposure to how those board members are trained so they can be prepared for their first meeting.

Commissioner Courtney Shipley, during Tuesday’s meeting, said she thought there was a lot to unpack with the CPRB, though she didn’t necessarily think that in considering appointments was the right space for the commission to discuss it.

The board has largely been in purgatory for the past two and a half years. Read the backstory in this article from January.

“There are places where we need to give direction. How can we make space for ourselves to do that?” Shipley said. “I do feel like there’s been a lot of lack of direction or infighting. But I don’t think right here, appointing these two people, is the way to take control of that or to take responsibility for which part is ours. So how can we make space to do that?”

One public commenter had suggested the city commission take responsibility for the board and revisit the ordinance that codifies its duties. Shipley said she thinks that’s an interesting idea, but questionable in the long run.

“It sounds cool when you say it like that, but I can tell you right now that it doesn’t matter what you do, it will lack transparency,” she said. “So I just want to make sure we give some kind of real direction here.”

Commissioners then took a recess to have a member of the public removed from the meeting room for speaking out of order. When they returned, they voted 4-1, with Sellers opposed, to approve the new CPRB appointees.

The Community Police Review Board meets on the second Thursdays of the month at City Hall. The March 9 meeting agenda will be posted at this link, typically a couple of days before the meeting.

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Related coverage: Lawrence Community Police Review Board


Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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