When Fresno’s new police advisory committee convenes Tuesday for its first regular meeting, there will be no published agenda and no public participation in the group’s discussions.
That’s because the entire group is appointed by the mayor and does not fall under the state’s open meeting law known as the Brown Act. Mayor Lee Brand created the committee in March to “enhance trust, accountability and promote higher standards of services in the Fresno Police Department.”
Controversy Over Secrecy
The secrecy is rankling some community advocates.
Andy Levine, executive director of Faith in Fresno said, “it is hard to see at this point how a closed-door process will address one of the core reasons why we and others have long been calling for a community advisory board in the first place – to help rebuild trust.”
Officially known as the Citizens’ Public Safety Advisory Board, Brand formed the group in August, delivering on a campaign promise. Members serve four-year terms at the pleasure of the mayor and may be removed by Brand at any time for any reason. In March, the Fresno City Council approved a non-binding resolution in favor of creating the board on a 5-2 vote.
Damon Kurtz, president of the Fresno Police Officers Association, says the fact the group doesn’t meet publicly isn’t of great concern. “This isn’t a ‘gotcha’ committee,” he said. “This is a way we can have honest dialogue on how we can do better in the future,” he said. Kurtz serves as a non-voting advisory member of the committee.
In the CPSAB by-laws, privacy is a built-in requirement. “No member of the Board shall divulge confidential information, including identities of witnesses and contents of confidential testimony and documents, either during his or her term of office or thereafter. Prior to taking office, each member of the Board shall take an oath and sign a non-disclosure agreement to comply with this requirement of confidentiality,” states Article II, Section 6.
Kurtz says the panel’s confidentiality ensures “we can have conversations and not yell and scream at each other. You can’t allow the dialogue (to be) dictated by what is going on in the audience,” he said.
But Levine said his organization would like to see more trust built with communities of color south of Shaw Avenue. “We would strongly urge the Mayor to consider adding an additional component to this process: a regular community-based meeting – in an area of our city where trust is particularly needing to be rebuilt – where this Board can report back on their recommendations and progress, and formally document questions, concerns and ideas from community members,” he said.
Other than a public announcement introducing the nine members appointed to the board, city officials have said nothing else, including when the panel meets and what topics they are discussing. Two board members confirmed to GV Wire that Tuesday’s scheduled meeting will take place at City Hall.
Who Are the CSPAB Members?
Appointees to the CSPAB must be age 18 or older, live in the city of Fresno and be registered to vote. Once selected, members are required to be trained in various law enforcement procedures and participate in police ride-alongs, the by-laws state. There are nine mayor-appointed voting members as well as five non-voting members who serve in an advisory capacity.
The committee is tasked with evaluating police policy and making recommendations to the city’s Independent Reviewer. The exact nature of what the members would vote on is not known because the city has not released any agendas nor other documents about board discussions. Members will also review “critical incidents” although there is no definition of that term in the group’s by-laws.
While CSPAB appointments are not divided among council districts, GV Wire has included that information here to illustrate geographic representation on the panel. Confirmation of residency and registered voter status was obtained from publicly available records. All members qualify under CSPAB by-laws. The nine appointees are:
- Debbie Hunsaker (Priaulx) is CSPAB’s chairperson. She is president of Alert-O-Lite and also serves on the Fresno Chamber of Commerce Government Affairs Council. (District 2)
- Avis Braggs, business consultant (District 1).
- Vernon Crowder, retired businessman (District 6).
- Monica Diaz, owner of Diaz Financial Services (District 3).
- Ike Grewal, County of Fresno staff analyst and an activist in the Sikh community (District 5).
- Amy Guerra, attorney with Richard Ciummo & Associates (District 2).
- James Parks, Pastor at West Fresno Christian Center (District 6).
- Michael Kou Vang, student at Walden University (District 4).
- Clifford Williams III, student at Fresno State and intern with Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria (District 4).
No appointed CSPAB member lives in Council District 7, which covers the central part of Fresno.
The five non-voting members are drawn from law enforcement and City Hall. The city has not responded to repeated inquiries from GV Wire for the name of the mayor’s office appointee. The representatives of the four remaining agencies are:
- Assistant District Attorney Steve Wright, representing the District Attorney’s office.
- Damon Kurtz, representing the Fresno Police Officers’ Association as its president.
- Lt. Robert Nevarez, representing the Fresno Police Department.
- Newly appointed Independent Police Reviewer John Gliatta represents his office.