City panel to study police advisory board

VERGENNES — An eight-member panel of Vergennes residents is working on a charge for a city Citizen Review Board that could be established within a month and make recommendations to City Manager Daniel Hofman on Vergennes police operations, policies and actions.
The group, originally picked by Mayor Jeff Fritz, actually met on Monday, June 21. But Fritz and council members at their Tuesday meeting decided it would be wiser to make the study committee a council-appointed group. 
As an official council committee the group must keep minutes and, vitally, according to city officials, warn meetings and hold them under more public scrutiny.
Mayor Fritz and councilors acknowledged that although group members, in Fritz’s words” “were encouraged” after Monday’s meeting, the group should have been formed through the council and thus defaulted to greater transparency.
“We’re not trying to hide anything,” Fritz said.
Councilor David Austin remained unhappy with what he called a misstep in a sensitive process, with people, he said, likely to be dissatisfied whether the council agrees to form a Citizen Review Board or not. 
“We can’t screw this up,” Austin said. “There are people who are likely to be not happy whichever way it goes.”
Other councilors, with Bill Benton and Mark Koenig as well as Fritz speaking up, said they believed the council was acting quickly and appropriately to put the process back on the right path.
“We’re acknowledging this was a problem, and we’re fixing it now and moving it forward,” Koenig said.
Ultimately the council voted unanimously to approve a panel that includes Catherine Brooks as its chairperson, Michael Donnelly, Maya Farrell, Cory Foote, Scott Gaines, Bryan Goodkowsky, Alicia Grangent and Nial Rele. 
Fritz said when he asked residents to serve he tried to pick members who held a cross-section of viewpoints on policing and the city department. 
The council also described the role of the study committee, which will be asked to come up with a mission statement for a potential Citizen Review Board. 
“They are essentially doing the homework of the city council,” Fritz said in a separate interview with the Independent. 
Councilors also emphasized that a Citizen Review Board, if created in Vergennes, would report in an advisory role to Hofman, who has statutory authority over personnel decisions in the city. 
“It’s an advisory board,” Fritz told the Independent. “Were we to form such a board it would obviously report to the city manager.”
Fritz made the same point at the meeting, that the panel could do research and make recommendations, but not take direct action or set policy. 
“We’ve been clear on that,” he said.  

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