And you thought soap operas were dead! Mayor Stephanie Miner fired Felicia Davis, the head of the Civilian Review Board, on Friday. The C.R.B. was the only independent monitoring agency looking at complaints about police brutality. The fallout from this is going to be ugly.
Before the soap opera begins, one thing should be kept in perspective: The Civilian Review Board under Ms. Davis was a joke. The Board did nothing but complain that the Mayors and Councils for the past 17 years have done nothing to make their job easier. They held no hearings, they did no outreach in the community with either residents or community groups and they did no work in the press. They did nothing. Ms. Davis treated her job as a sinecure, a no-show job like some mobbed-up goon. Board members came and went, frustrated. The people remaining behind are bitter, unpleasant folks–unable to work with anyone in the community. They have found their little fiefdom and refuse to look at the reality of its failure.
The last straw, after 17 years of purposeful incompetence, was Ms. Davis’ refusal to respond to a subpoena about a finding the Board made about a complaint of abuse. The Board, apparently based solely on the complainant’s statement, issued a finding that the complaint was substantiated. One can guess why Ms. Davis made no appearance–either at the trial or after a subsequent request by the judge for questioning–the complaint was laughable on its face and was tossed out of court. The judge believes the case only went to court because of the imprimatur of the CRB. The judge is considering fines and reprimands to the city for its role. The city was finally forced to act.
But now the circus is coming to town. Here are the problems I foresee:
1) Does the Mayor have the right to fire the head of the C.R.B.?
Yes, this case features a liberal democrat Mayor searching for an effective outside monitor of complaints about police brutality and an incompetent, do-nothing head of the C.R.B. But what if the Mayor was a right-wing asshole who believed that a few cracked heads are the price you pay for safety and anyone opposing him is a bleeding heart apologist for the criminal element? What if the head of the C.R.B. had been a crusading go-getter? The Mayor probably shouldn’t have the power to fire the head of the C.R.B. But what do we do when it’s obvious, as in this case, that a change has to be made?
2) The Council will politicize this problem in its struggle to stay relevant
It comes as a shock to many when they discover that power in the city government is stacked in the Common Council’s favor–a result of the widespread corruption under the “strong mayor” set-up in place under Lee Alexander. That shock is largely a result of the inability of the Council to get its shit together. The Democrats have long controlled the Council and will as long as current demographics continue (or until the city government is eaten whole by Onondaga County.) Politics on the Council has nothing to do with party label, ideology or even rational thought. It’s all petty, personal crap. It’s like high school student council writ large. The problem is the Council will grandstand on this issue and demand its right to be in control–but will be unable to do anything about the problem. Hell, the council can’t even muster more than 3 votes for anyone to replace departed Councilor Bill Ryan.
3) The lefties will rally in support of Ms. Davis.
The left in Syracuse, of which I count myself a member, has a strong tendency to let their ideology and extraneous viewpoints about the great issues of the day screw up their ability to be pragmatic and thoughtful when dealing with prosaic local issues. The C.R.B. is irredeemably broken, the people running this agency for the past 17 years have done nothing to help the situation, making things worse by abdicating any responsibility for corrective action. I can envisage the same people that fought so hard to create the CRB, but have since been so terribly silent in the face of its impotence, to jump up and defend Ms. Davis and her era of incompetence.
4) The race card
In a town where African-Americans, who make up 25% of the city’s population yet have so few positions of decision-making power in city government, it is unfortunate when an African-American loses a position of authority. The flip side of this problem is the tendency to shield incompetent African-American office holders from being fired. Yes, there are incompetent white officeholders that should be gotten rid of as well. But the focus should be on firing the incompetents–of all races. Ms. Davis’ husband ran for Mayor in the most recent election and, when asked about the incompetence of the C.R.B., responded with a stunning mix of personal invective about Mayor Miner’s husband and racial conspiracy theory. I fear more of this is to come.