As The Civilian Review Board Turns . . .

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.

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3 thoughts on “As The Civilian Review Board Turns . . .

  1. Sharon

    Phil – Your analysis is right-on. As usual Mayor Miner is making this partly about her confrontation style. Wouldn’t have it been better if she had privately talked to some people on the CRB and the Common Council before this news hit. I know it is hard to get David Baines on the telephone but I also know who to call to get to him. She should have found someone willing to say publicly what you are saying on your blog that the CRB has been ineffective and not all of the ineffectiveness has been because of the legislation some of it has been because of incompetence. Gee, Phil she could have called you up and ask you to be available for comment.

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  3. Interesting stuff; seems you beat me to it on writing about this topic, so I’ll comment here instead.

    First, I thinks she should have been fired for incompetence, and that’s that. The history shows she was deficient, and since I’ve learned that there’s both a president of the CRB & a board, they should all be replaced as well.

    Second, mayoral authority. I don’t know who the position reports to, but I have no problem with the mayor firing the person at the top, regardless of the politics, as long as there’s just cause, which in this case there definitely is. The woman has a law background, for goodness sakes; if they were so put upon, that should have been front page news many times over.

    Third, this thing about race… well, I’m going to say it. Race will always become an issue because of the overall inequalities of representation and the fear of those who aren’t minorities to own up to having the conversation and working to overcome it. I’m going to say this, which might look like a turnabout on my position but it’s not. If this woman has been getting consistent reports on her performance and nothing’s ever been mentioned about her deficiencies, then possibly she shouldn’t have been fired, and it could look racial. If there’s never been any performance appraisals, same thing. In this case Miner asked someone to investigate the matter, and that becomes a wholly different thing. The person who investigated, I believe, is also a person of color; racism negated.

    Fourth, I do disagree with your 3rd statement. I’m liberal in my politics and I don’t see this as the issue at all. As a matter of fact, liberals in the city (I live in Liverpool so I don’t count) should have been all over this for years, which I hear they were, once they noticed no hearings had occurred. The right should have been feeling pretty smug because that side tends to believe the police are infallible and always above board; yeah, like that’s reality. I saw the noon news today and this woman had only 17 people supporting her, and they were all her friends; not quite a revolution fighting against her dismissal.

    I think the overall performance of the CRB stands on its own petard. If job descriptions need to be created to determine who has the right to do what to someone else, then by all means do it. But if those rights stand only with the board, then there needs to be policies that change board members every so many years because it seems this board thought she was doing a great job; apparently not.

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