City council approves Ward settlement
CHAMPAIGN — The city council meeting had its highs and its lows on Tuesday night, including a formal conclusion of a hotly debated excessive-police-force saga that was 1 year old to the day.
Although the debate may still go on for quite some time.
City council members unanimously approved a $45,000 settlement with Brandon Ward, who last year filed a complaint regarding his June 5, 2011, arrest for resisting a police officer. Video footage of the arrest later surfaced, setting off public debate over whether Officer Patrick Simons used excessive force in detaining a discontented Ward after attempting to stop him for jaywalking.
All criminal charges against Ward were dropped, but the public scrutiny of both his and Simons' actions was not.
An avalanche of investigations and reports ultimately led to Tuesday night's meeting, where city council members agreed to pay Ward $45,000 in advance of probable litigation.
Ward's settlement was approved in a group with two others:
— $50,000 to Gary McFarland of Champaign to settle a claim involving his arrest on Oct. 1, 2011.
— $42,000 to Barbara Griffiths for injuries she received when she slipped and fell at the entrance to a fire station at 2315 W. John St. on Dec. 4, 2008.
Some speakers felt hopeful that Tuesday night's formal conclusion could help the city to move on from the controversy.
"I think we should have faith now, trust them," said Lynn Anderson, a candidate for a soon-to-be-vacant District 3 seat on the council. "Let's go forward."
Activist Aaron Ammons was not as hopeful.
"If you were really serious about moving forward, then you would get rid of officers that beat up kids in the back of cars," Ammons said.
He said giving cash to Ward does not solve the broader issues facing other residents in the city.
"It does not address the concerns and lack of trust that the entire community is feeling," Ammons said.
In other business:
— The city council unanimously approved the next fiscal year's budget, which includes $350,000 in spending reductions. City officials say that number is nominal compared with the past several years', which held millions of dollars in budget cuts.
— Council members voted unanimously to extend North Fourth Street 500 feet beyond its current terminus at Bradley Avenue. City officials say the $490,000 is important for future development, and they expected it to be completed by September at the latest.