While your average city government meeting can be a bit of a snooze-fest, anyone who really cares about the future of Burbank should try to attend tonight’s community meeting on Police Department affairs.
Not only is the back story worthy of a TNT drama — allegations of police misconduct, including brutal attacks on suspects and deep-rooted racial discrimination within the department, with a new chief finally brought in to make things right — but what’s at stake could very well be the nature of community involvement in plans aimed at keeping future storylines suitable for TV Land.
A solid turnout of residents engaging in constructive dialogue would make an argument for more such events and an expanded role for the formerly do-little Police Commission.
But even the meeting itself comes with its own behind-the-scenes drama, with concerns now bubbling up that City Council members may be reluctant to let the commission play a significant role in impending reform of police oversight procedures.
As the meeting came near, the council moved to rebrand the commission town hall as a joint meeting governed by both bodies.
Veteran Councilman Dave Golonski said he suggested the change because all five council members hoped to attend, and he feared not doing so might lead to a violation of the state’s open-meeting law, which requires formal announcements and procedures when a council majority gathers on city business.
City Atty. Dennis Barlow agreed it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Yet there are those close to the issue, including some police commissioners, who’ve privately expressed worry that the move might also constitute an attempt to hijack control of the meeting.
Councilman David Gordon, who more often than not plays Oscar to Golonski’s Felix, said he also opposed the council annexation of the town hall as a possible threat to the commission’s independence in conducting the meeting.
Concerns about a potential power struggle simmer because tonight’s discussion pertains not only to the sweeping internal reforms being carried out by interim Police Chief Scott LaChasse, but also to the role of the Police Commission in the future structure of police oversight.
As it turns out, it’s iffy whether the council really had to join in running the meeting to allow its members to participate.
Because the commission is a formal public body established by the council, attorney Judy Alexander with the nonprofit California First Amendment Coalition said it probably would have been OK for council members to attend and even speak at a commission-run forum, as long as they didn’t deliberate among themselves about information related to council decision-making.
Golonski said the council’s involvement will not affect the intended structure of the gathering, and there won’t be any effort on his part to control what happens there.
“I don’t want to have a [leadership] role. I don’t plan to respond to public comments,” he said of the meeting.
Looking ahead, Golonski envisions one option for future police oversight that would involve assigning an experienced police affairs expert, knowledgeable about the complex legal framework that governs law enforcement activities, to report both to commission members and the city attorney’s office.
While other options are still on the table, this approach might be “the best way to accomplish a set of checks and balances that has rigor to it and is really independent of the Police Department, but is professional and follows all rules and regulations in place,” he said.
The City Council — Police Commission Community Forum starts at 7 tonight at the Burbank Community Services Building, 150 N. Third St.
I’ll see you there.
JOE PIASECKI is an Annenberg Fellow with USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and a contributing editor for the Pasadena Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.