CHAMPAIGN — The Champaign City Council on Tuesday unanimously supported a request to clarify the role played by its commissions and subcommittees — spurred in part, according to one council member, by the lack of respect city staff have been shown by some of the groups.
The request put forward by council member Clarissa Nickerson Fourman during a study session followed critical comments by members of the Citizen Review Subcommittee during the public-participation portion of Tuesday’s meeting.
Subcommittee Chairwoman Emily Rodriguez used that time to say she is “eager” to give the council more information on suggested reforms to the city’s police-complaint process, while also voicing concerns about recent council comments that her group was overstepping its mandate.
Rodriguez said her subcommittee is merely abiding by the 2017 ordinance, passed with unanimous consent, that established the group.
“The CRS is part of the legacy of Kiwane Carrington,” Rodriguez said, referring to the 15-year-old victim of what was deemed an accidental police shooting in 2009. “The CRS is not only within our mission to issue recommendations, but we would not be fulfilling our mission if we did not do so.
“I hear from angry residents after every meeting, listening to their frustrations with the complaint process,” Rodriguez said. “They have visceral feelings that the process is meant to keep them out.”
Subcommittee member Alexandra Harmon-Threatt also spoke, saying comments made by council members last week serve to “undercut a lot of our efforts to improve the process.”
The citizens of Champaign want and deserve input into the complaint process, she said, asking the council to reaffirm its commitment in having a citizen review of complaints.
Fourman said in response that city staff are not being treated with respect by the council’s boards and commissions, criticizing specifically the reception Rodriguez’s group gave Champaign police Chief Anthony Cobb in July.
“We don’t expect that from ourselves, so we shouldn’t when our staff go in front of a commission,” Fourman said. “Chief Cobb showed up and talked about what were his concerns. I want to look into these commissions and boards solely because of staff treatment. City staff are having to schedule meetings with board members. But that’s not their job. I say if commissioners want to speak to the council, they can.”
Will Kyles, the sole council member who voiced support last week for looking into the subcommittee’s recommendations, said he wants to “bring peace to the situation.”
“The reality is that it took a while for this to get even to where we are today,” Kyles said of establishing the Citizen Review Subcommittee. “No one wants to sit on a board where they feel it’s not going anywhere. People like to believe their work is valued. I think that as council members, the nine of us would be able to say at the study session what’s doable and what’s not.”
Mayor Deb Feinen said she supported Fourman’s request because she does feel the council “needs to clarify roles.”
“I think our boards and commissions need to know what is expected of them so their roles are clear to them,” Feinen said. “If they’re not meshing, then something’s wrong. There have been many times over the course of many years where I have seen recommendations from subcommittees that either pass or fail as they come to the council. That doesn’t mean that subcommittee should stop working; it just means we have decisions to make.”
In other business, council members voted 8-1 to reject citywide zoning changes that represent the latest effort to address concerns from Clark Park residents about the construction trend of big houses in small lots.
Most on the council said they opposed the ordinance because of its citywide consequences, saying they don’t feel that a few vocal residents of one neighborhood should determine zoning for the rest of the city.
Champaign resident Susan Appel wrote in a letter to the council that she feels it made a “slick move” in giving the zoning changes a “bland description, presumably to quiet public response."
“This was intentionally chosen so the public can’t recognize the subject,” she wrote. “I find that title to be suspiciously innocuously worded, such as to suggest to me that the wording may have been intentionally chosen so that the public cannot recognize its actual subject."
Despite a call by Appel and others to table Tuesday’s decision and bring it back later, council members felt the topic needed to take a break.
Council member Tom Bruno called the Clark Park affair a “civil war.”
“I think what we’re doing is we’re so burned out by the Clark Park civil war that we’re willing to make bad law just to put it to rest,” Bruno said. “Unfortunately, we live in a community of 85,000, and we are about to impose bad law on the 84,000 that don’t live in Clark Park because some folks there think their neighbor’s house is bigger than they would like it to be. I don’t think we’d be doing the city any favors.”
Also Tuesday, the council voted unanimously to approve setting zoning requirements for any future recreational-cannabis dispensary or related business.