Council members showed some spine and some dignity during the contentious start of what could have been a very long meeting last night. The crowd in the audience spilled out into the hall and a conference room and even outside, the vast majority interested in a petition submitted by Jim Neal, calling for an independent, third-party investigation of how police handled the incident of miscreants breaking into the Yates building and announcing plans to, in effect, steal it from the owner.
Comments from the numerous people signed up to speak ranged from the common sense – if a reporter could go into the building and look around and talk to the trespassers, why couldn’t plainclothes police do the same undercover – to the off-beat – objecting to the UNC men’s basketball team playing on a military vessel – to the sarcastic – suggesting that a SWAT team be used to enforce parking and panhandling regulations. Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt had to remind the audience several times not to clap and cheer their favorite speakers, so most in the audience resorted to raising their arms and wiggling their fingers instead.
Once the speakers were done, Kleinschmidt seemed anxious to receive and refer, but Sally Greene wanted to talk. She voiced concern over a lack of trust between residents and the police who protect them, and she saw that tied to several incidents elsewhere in the nation where people were prohibited from videotaping police actions. Laurin Easthom proposed a resolution in which the town apologizes to the reporter detained. When Kleinschmidt said he wanted to wait until he heard what the internal investigation revealed, some audience members booed loudly.
That got the mayor’s hackles up. He not only told them who they were dealing with, he showed them as well. He has a 25-year record of striving to move civil rights issues forward. As a student, he occupied South Building on campus (where the chancellor and top administration have their offices) to pressure for a black cultural center; he made a career fighting for inmates on death row; he ordered protection for the Occupy Chapel Hill movement on Franklin Street. And he was not going to issue an official apology until all sides had weighed in.
Donna Bell asked how Neal’s investigation committee differed from the Police Advisory Committee. She did not support an ad hoc committee duplicating efforts the town already had in place. Penny Rich supported Bell, urging a measured response of using the system already in place. In the end, Greene, Easthom and Ed Harrison were the only votes to adopt Neal’s and Easthom’s proposed resolutions. The remaining six votes were to receive and refer.
Some in the audience began jeering at that, preventing council from continuing with the public hearing next on the agenda. Matt Czajkowski made a motion to briefly adjourn, which passed unanimously. Most council members walked off the dais. When the meeting resumed about five minutes later, the crowd had settled down and council settled into the next matter.
Clearly passions ran high, but council members disagreed with one another without snide remarks or caustic put-downs. They behaved like the people we wanted them to be when we elected them. Last night, they gave us good value for our tax dollars.
– Nancy Oates