Since 2018, the proposal to revive a civilian-led police oversight panel to investigate complaints of misconduct against Miami-Dade police officers has twice earned approval from county commissioners, and twice been torpedoed by County Mayor Carlos Giménez.
The third time could have been the charm yesterday, when commissioners planned to vote on a new proposal for the oversight board during a special meeting — if not for an effort to block the meeting by the South Florida Police Benevolent Association, the union that represents county officers.
PBA president Steadman Stahl sent a letter to commissioners Wednesday night claiming they violated their own rules for calling special meetings. The letter says items on Thursday's agenda were "inappropriately before the [Board of County Commissioners] and in violation of the Code of Miami-Dade County."
The commission's rules of procedure say a special meeting can be called by a majority of commissioners and that a written notice calling the meeting needs to be signed by the members who plan to attend. Signatures are supposed to be handwritten, but a commissioners' stamp can be used when paired with a signature from a staffer authorized to use the stamp.
Stahl claims in the letter that the written notice for the meeting was improperly signed, and so "the whole calling of the special meeting fails for lack of the required proper signatures."
"It appears that several signatures (perhaps as many as five signatures) are not original handwritten by the county commissioners themselves, but rather are a stamp signature without the prerequisite accompanying signature of the staffer who is authorized to use the stamp on behalf of the respective commissioner," the letter reads, in part.
A livestream of the virtual meeting started shortly after 9:30 a.m. yesterday. About five minutes later, the meeting ended with a graphic that read "BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS SPECIAL MEETING ***WILL NOT BE HELD***."
It seemed like a temporary win for the police union, but Stahl tells New Times the letter wasn't an "us-versus-them thing." He says the recent proposal to reinstate the oversight panel is moving too quickly.
"The purpose of the letter was to bring light to the fact that this is being rushed to the point that the [commission] isn't following their own rules," Stahl says. "They're not following their own rules to get this pushed through."
He says he has concerns about the "motivation" behind the panel and how impartial the members would be. He questions who would oversee the overseers.
Commissioner Barbara Jordan and community leaders for years have advocated for the panel, which was initially formed in 1980 in response to riots over the acquittal of four Miami-Dade police officers in the fatal beating of Arthur McDuffie. It was defunded in 2009 because of the economic depression. Jordan sponsored a measure in 2016 to convene a working group that studied the history of the county's panel, sought out community input, and made recommendations for how a reinstated panel should function.
Commissioners approved bringing back the panel in 2018, but Giménez vetoed the measure. Commissioners again approved reviving the panel last month, and Giménez flexed his veto muscle a second time. The mayor said he didn't want the panel to have the power to subpoena elected officials and county employees.
Jordan introduced a new measure on July 21 to bring back the panel with some exemptions to its subpoena power. Jordan previously told New Times she was willing to compromise on certain things so the measure would have the support of the commission and approval from the mayor.
Rona Bellamy, a spokesperson for Jordan's office, says the commissioner plans to call a new special meeting for August 4. Through Bellamy, Jordan declined to comment about the police union's letter and the problem with the signatures.
The PBA's letter also challenges an effort to make the police oversight panel a part of the county's charter, which would give it permanence and insulate it from future budget shortfalls. Jordan and other commissioners are sponsoring a measure that would place this county question on the November ballot for Miami-Dade voters:
Shall the county charter be amended to establish an Independent Civilian Panel as a charter entity with the authority to review county law enforcement policies, patterns, practices and closed internal affairs investigations, alternative dispute resolution proceedings, and public hearings on complaints against county law enforcement, and issue written fact-findings, recommendations, reports, and evaluations as set forth by ordinance?
Bellamy says if a special meeting is called for August 4 and the measure gets approved, voters could still have their say on the matter in the November 3 election.
But Stahl argues that, by the county's own code, commissioners have placed too many county questions on the November ballot and that adding any more would require a two-thirds vote of the commission. For now, it's unclear if the ballot measure will clear that hurdle.
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