News Update: Council delays CLERB revamp vote until November

Amended ordinance draws ire of Vice Chairman Conrad

Brittney Gathen/Special to The New Tri-State Defender | 8/4/2015, 7:31 p.m.
Some in opposition to delay cite election-year pandering.
Vice Chair Kemp Conrad held nothing back when expressing his opposition to the proposed amended CLERB ordinance. Brittney Gathen

The Memphis City Council voted on Tuesday to delay until November the vote on a proposed amended ordinance to revamp and strengthen the Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB).

Vice Chair Kemp Conrad held nothing back when expressing his opposition to the proposed amended ordinance. He urged council members to vote against it.

Conrad questioned and criticized the character of some of the individuals involved in the proposed amended ordinance, most notably Paul Garner, an organizing coordinator with the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center. Conrad displayed what he considered to be controversial and questionable social media content Garner had posted.

“You can’t separate the message from the messenger,” Conrad said.

During the meeting, Councilman Berlin Boyd asked Memphis Police Department Director Toney Armstrong to give his take on the proposed amended ordinance. Armstrong then asked the council to delay the vote until after the funeral of slain Officer Sean Bolton. The funeral for the 33-year-old Bolton, who was killed in the line of duty on Saturday night, is set for Thursday.

Despite efforts by Councilwoman Wanda Halbert to prevent the delay from being so long, the council ultimately voted to delay the vote until November. After the decision and after he had exited the meeting, Bradley Watkins, executive director of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, expressed his disappointment.

“That was the worst case of election-year pandering I have ever seen,” Watkins said. “They have effectively delayed this vote until after the election when most of them (council members) won’t even be here. Today was a strong source of support from city government to dirty cops. A clean cop has nothing to fear from what would’ve been passed today.

“This is shameful, and they are politically using the death of a police officer for a political issue that had nothing to do with why that officer was killed,” said Watkins. “That officer was not killed because of civilian oversight, and to conflate those two issues is a disservice to that officer, to that family and to this community.”

The Rev. Ralph White, CLERB chairperson, also opposed the delay.

“What we’ve got to strengthen the board has nothing to do with taking power (from) or discriminating against police,” White said. “I think it’s a political ploy. I don’t know who's behind it, but it’s not good for the city of Memphis."