By Thane Grauel
WESTPORT — An ordinance to establish permanent Civilian Police Review Board failed Thursday to win the endorsement of a Representative Town Meeting committee.
The Public Protection Committee, however, did agree to follow an alternative proposal by First Selectwoman Jennifer Tooker, and will accept applications and interview candidates to fill two empty seats on the existing Civilian Review Panel.
That panel, established in 2020 by then-First Selectman Jim Marpe, is not encoded by ordinance and can be disbanded at the discretion of the town’s chief elected officer.
Voters again petitioned RTM to review ordinance
A revised version of the controversial ordinance to adopt a local Civilian Police Review Board was added to the RTM’s January agenda via a petition signed by 25 town voters. It was subsequently referred to the Public Protection Committee for a hearing.
After voting 7-1 not to recommend the new CPRB ordinance proposal to the full RTM, the committee on Thursday discussed plans to advertise for two candidates to serve on the appointed panel. The committee members agreed to set Monday, Feb. 7, as the application deadline.
The committee expects to appoint a subcommittee to devise questions for candidates. The committee will recommend two candidates for full RTM approval.
Police chief raises objections
Police Chief Foti Koskinas, as with a version of the CPRB ordinance rejected last year, on Thursday expressed concerns about the revised proposal. Among those concerns was language he said opened the door to the board exercising subpoena powers, which was supposed to have been dropped from the revised measure.
“It’s an area that basically states that this will adopt everything that comes under the [state’s] accountability bill, and everything that goes along with it,” Koskinas said. “If that’s the case, the way it’s worded, ultimately, subpoena power becomes automatic.”
Disagreeing with Koskinas was Kristan Hamlin, a former RTM member who led the unsuccessful fight to adopt an ordinance last year.
But Assistant Town Attorney Eileen Lavigne Flug agreed with Koskinas.
The chief said the draft of the ordinance he had still had a mention of subpoena in it, while Hamlin said the latest version removed the reference.
It became clear that the document Hamlin had was not the same as committee members had.
Hamlin said another proponent of the measure, Tom Prince, forwarded the latest version by email to the members of the committee Jan. 8.
Several committee members, including Chairman Jimmy Izzo, said they did not receive that version, so Hamlin forwarded it during the meeting.
Earlier version overwhelmingly rejected
Louis Mall, District 2, pointed out that the RTM voted 32-1 last October against the previous version of the ordinance, and said having seven new members elected wasn’t likely to change that outcome.
“Give us a chance to get this panel going,” he said of the existing panel. “Give [Chairman] Harold Bailey, the other two members that he needs. We have a new second selectwoman, a new third selectwoman, let them have a chance to get trained with the other people and get this thing working.”
Bailey, also the chairman of TEAM Westport, and Selectwomen Andrea Moore and Candice Savin are the current members of the appointed panel, with the two open seats now to be filled by the RTM.
Scant support from committee members
The revised ordinance appeared to have little support Thursday.
Committee member Stephen Shackelford, District 8, one of the ordinance’s proponents, said he didn’t like some of the changes.
“I think it is rather confusingly written, because we kept trying to make changes to it,” he said.
He also didn’t like that it appeared the board would be required to conduct interviews regarding any complaint, instead of giving it the option to do interviews if it chose to.
“I’m not going to support this version,” Shackelford said. “I think there is a better version we can put together.”
In the end, seven committee members voted against recommending the ordinance to the full RTM. Sal Liccione, District 5, cast the lone vote in favor.