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Keeping in touch: Notes from the Mayor

Mayor Lucy VinisThis blog aims to nurture our conversation and understanding of the issues before us. Every week, I will provide a weekly update on the activities in the city government, my activities as mayor, and brief reflections on progress, opportunities and challenges. You are invited to respond with reactions, insights and questions. We do this work together.

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Jun 26

June 26, 2020

Posted on June 26, 2020 at 4:08 PM by Nicole Bernstein

Another week challenged us to respond to the demands for racial justice and police reform, and to continue to attend to ongoing council businesses.

At the 5:30 work session on Monday, Council reviewed their options regarding investment in the Park Blocks and Farmers Market.  This long-term project is really several investments under one umbrella within the Downtown Urban Renewal Agency.  Council has a long-standing commitment to build a permanent, year-round farmers’ market that is finally in the design phase. An associated project in the downtown is renovation and redesign of the Park Blocks to make it more accommodating for gatherings and performances, as well as Saturday Market.  A third project, to build a new City Hall, is the final component of this endeavor to create a vibrant town center.  Council’s discussion focused on the value of the Farmers’ Market as a driver in our economic recovery plan.  As such, it may be a strong candidate for federal economic recovery grants. Within the Urban Renewal District, Council has identified specifically how much money is available for specific projects, but they have the option of adjusting those amounts to shift more toward investment in the Farmers Market, pulling dollars away from the Park Blocks. Council chose to refer this to a public hearing.

 This calm and deliberative work session was followed by a long and loud public forum and public hearing, both of which featured speakers concerned about police reform and racial justice.  At issue in the hearing was the need to approve the FY21 budget, that must be enacted by July 1st in order to enable the city to pay its payroll, bills and contacts. Between the two sessions, forum and hearing, we heard from close to 60 people, many of whom called for either completely defunding the police or reallocating 30% of the police budget to CAHOOTS. Despite my efforts to explain the fiscal timeline and complexity of these changes, many speakers were outraged that the budget passed without amendment.

This should not be construed to imply that the demands have fallen on deaf ears.  We have a foundation of solid work in reviewing our public safety network and a strong commitment to building the community safety system that can best serve our entire community. There are two immediate paths: first, Council will meet probably on July 13th to discuss two possible task forces: one that Councilor Evans has proposed to engage the community in equity and reform, and a second concept brought by Council Yeh that was requested by the Civilian Review Board and Police Commission for a joint body to review police policies.  Second, Council will meet on July 20th to review options related to commitments in the Community Safety Initiative.  The CSI funds additional police officers, but also includes investment in homeless, community court and youth services.

I appreciate the urgency of the demands for change.  We are acting quickly on a commitment to review police policies, procedures, actions and equipment; and we are engaging our State legislators as they debate police reforms at the State level.  We will proceed deliberatively, thoughtfully and inclusively as we consider broader, deeper changes not only in our public safety system, but throughout our city government and community