South Bend Common Council Sidelines Reynolds, Moves Control of Police Review Board To Mayor’s Office
The South Bend Common Council unanimously voted Monday night to move oversight of the city’s Community Police Review Board to the mayor’s office. But following an amendment from Councilmember Henry Davis Jr., the board could return to the city clerk’s office after the 2023 election.
Moving the board to the mayor’s office faced strong opposition from current director Joshua Reynolds, City Clerk Dawn Jones, the South Bend NAACP, Black Lives Matter and other community organizations over concerns it would harm the board’s credibility and independence.
The October ordinance that created the police review board placed it under the clerk's office instead of the mayor’s office to avoid conflicts of interest, as the mayor appoints the police chief and the board of public safety, which handles discipline for the South Bend Police Department.
Following public comment during the Aug. 9 meeting, Councilmember Henry Davis Jr. proposed an amendment to help address those concerns, and the amended ordinance passed the council unanimously.
Under the new amended ordinance, the review board will move to the mayor’s office. But following the election of a new city clerk in 2023, the common council may bring a resolution — which the mayor could not veto — to move it back to the clerk’s office.
Reynolds will no longer be in charge of the police review board and a new director will have to be hired by a majority vote of the Common Council.
Mayor James Mueller cannot fire Reynolds, as he is still an employee of the city clerk’s office, but the mayor told the South Bend Tribune last week that Reynolds will have no role in the restructured board.
During the Aug. 9 meeting, multiple Common Council members said they didn’t want to have the board under the mayor’s office, but that the actions of clerk Jones forced the council’s hand.
Specifically, multiple members cited a lack of communication from the clerk’s office surrounding the hiring of Reynolds, as well as Jones’ disregard for provisions in the ordinance directing how the office will operate.
“I was in the interview where Mr. Reynolds was asked directly if there was anything that would affect his job position, and he said no,” Councilmember Sheila Niezgodski said. “Having all those suspensions, to me, should have raised a question.”
Niezgodski also said Jones did not fully involve the council in the hiring process.
“I asked her when are we going to be included, what are the dates,” Niezgodski. “And she said that it was a courtesy for her to even allow us to be in during the interview process. Courtesy. That’s not what it says in the ordinance.”
Councilmember Henry Davis Jr. said the situation is like being caught between a rock and a hard place.
“I understand the trepidations that our advocacy groups are bringing to the table,” Davis said. “The criticisms are real, and it’s supposed to be a part of this debate — and I say thank you, I commend you on it.”
Councilmember Canneth Lee called it a tough choice.
“We wanted this to work, but what do you do when it’s not working and you have to make a decision?” Lee said. “My heart is very heavy, because everybody else has been blamed. And the people who were in control of the process have never once said ‘I made a mistake.’ And so, that’s why we’re here tonight.”
Councilmember Lori Hamann said it was an extremely difficult decision, but she made up her mind after Jones said earlier Monday that if the bill passes, she would create a new job for Reynolds and keep him as an employee of her office.
In the proposed new role, Reynolds wouldn’t be running the police review board. Instead, Jones said he would promote community transparency by taking police misconduct complaints, investigating them and releasing his findings to the public through the clerk’s office.
“This is not even possible based on the law,” Hamann said. “I’m sorry, I cannot allow all of the work that we have done to remain in the current office it is housed in.”
Several members of the public spoke in favor of the bill, but the majority of speakers were against it.
NAACP president Trina Robinson said the move would destroy community trust in the board, since the mayor appoints the police chief and the Board of Public Safety.
“It is very difficult for the community, the Black community as a whole, to trust anything coming out of the mayor’s office,” Robinson said. “And now you want the community to trust the process, that this community review board is going to be under the mayor and everything is going to be peaches and cream. That is delusional.”
Jorden Giger, an activist with Black Lives Matter South Bend, said moving the board is a rash and rushed decision.
“In my dealings with James Mueller since he was the chief of staff five years ago, he has absolutely been against having any kind of independent oversight of the police department,” Giger said. “There are multiple ways of addressing this — you could hold up the budget and foce concessions from clerk Jones, you could also allow for Josh to finish up his probationary period and have an evaluation afterwards.”
Darryl Heller said the bill should be tabled for two weeks. He’s the director of the Indiana University South Bend Civil Rights Heritage Center and a member of the board of public safety.
“This feels like another example of pushing an amendment through that has little to no public input,” Heller said. “I think rushing the process is part of what got us here, and it feels to me at this point that the decision you’re making tonight is rushed as well.”
Julian Dean shared a similar sentiment.
“You’re giving up control of the board from the people to the mayor permanently for two positions that are not permanent,” Dean said. “And I would really urge you to think about the board, and not the individuals.”
During a town hall last week hosted by Black Lives Matter, Reynolds said moving the board to the mayor’s office is a “power grab” that would destroy its credibility, and he shared a similar sentiment during the Aug. 9 meeting.
“I oppose this amendment because taking this out of the clerk’s office destroys the independence of this office,” Reynolds said. “You put it in the mayor’s office, and it becomes another tool for that office to continue to oppress the voices of this community.”
Reynolds also said he requested the files of every South Bend Police Department officer two months ago.
"And so far we’ve received no response from the mayor’s office, city legal, human resources and any other person that we’ve asked,” Reynolds said. “I would ask the council to get involved and subpoena those records.”
In an Aug. 9 letter to the council, Mueller said he supports the bill moving the office under his control, and that he would not support funding it until there’s a new director.
“As you know, there is unfortunately no successful path forward within the current structure,” Mueller said. “Every day this embarrassing episode continues, the more damage will be done to our community and the credibility of this important initiative.”
In the letter, Mueller said the city clerk “excluded the Common Council from reaching a consensus on the hiring decision for the director,” has refused to fire him and has hired a lawyer to represent the office without discussion or an approved appropriation from the city.
“In short, the city clerk has inadequately collaborated with the Common Council at each and every step of the way and at times seems to work in defiance of Common Council and the broader community,” Mueller said
Jones said during the council meeting that she discussed hiring Reynolds individually with all council members except for president Karen White, and that some council members contacted an African American candidate to discourage them from taking the position.
“There was no process set up by the council, nor did they have the authority to set up a process because they gave the authority to the clerk’s office,” Jones said during an earlier interview with WVPE on Monday. “I just want to do my job as the city clerk, and operate in independence as was established by the state.”
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