A resolution to authorize the contentious purchase of nearly $83,000 in protective police equipment - aka riot gear - remained on the table at Monday night's meeting of the Duluth City Council. But the subject continued to dominate much of the discussion in council chambers.
Talk focused on three back-to-back events this week, beginning with an open house scheduled from 5:30-7 p.m. today at the East High School atrium, 301 N. 40th Ave. E.
Initially, the gatherings had been described as an opportunity for community members to weigh in on a draft policy governing when and how local police could use such equipment.
But after concerns about the format were brought to the city's attention, the events have been reframed, as Keith Hamre, Duluth's interim chief administrative officer, explained to city councilors Monday.
The change brings the community meetings more in line with the recommendations of the Duluth Citizens Review Board, according to 2nd District Councilor Joel Sipress. He noted that the board had suggested the discussion should cover not only a possible policy but also should "gather input and feedback on the potential purchase and deployment of protective gear."
Hamre assured Sipress that both items would be on the agenda for the gatherings and said the city would update its Facebook posting to reflect that broader scope.
Ryan Jones-Casey, a citizen opposed to the proposed equipment purchase, said: "I'm dismayed by the official characterization of the upcoming open houses focused on riot gear."
He criticized the way the city initially rolled out the events, saying: "At best, the city press release and Facebook event descriptions are confusing and misleading, damaging the process and the legitimacy of these forums. At worst, the information shared has been deliberately crafted to frame the events in a way that suggests the riot gear purchase decision has already been made, and the attempt to gather the public's input on this decision is not at all in earnest."
Jones-Casey called on the city to clarify the broader ground to be covered at the open houses, as Hamre pledged to do.
Hamre said the events are intended "to give everyone an ample opportunity to provide information in a comfortable setting and space, versus getting into a town hall meeting where it gets very emotional and there's a lot of passion."
The Citizens Review Board met for four hours Wednesday to discuss the proposed equipment purchase and heard quite a bit of testimony, Hamre said. Earlier in the week, the City Council also listened to dozens of speakers on the same subject before moving to table the request.
"Everybody has a lot to say about this resolution, and I think we want to make sure we gather that input as best we can, but we also want to make sure that it's a safe space," Hamre said.
During the open houses, people will be able to submit written comments and mark up sample policies, according to a city press release.
Hamre said the gear resolution could return for the City Council's consideration as soon as Oct 22.
In addition to the open house at East tonight, two other events are slated this week:
- 5:30-7 p.m. Wednesday in the Denfeld High School cafeteria, 401 N. 44th Ave. W.
- 5:30-7 p.m. Thursday at Historic Old Central High School, 215 N. First Ave. E.
In other business Monday night, the Duluth City Council repealed a section of the city code that held city workers responsible for removing snow that plows pushed onto people's sidewalks.
Left unamended, the code was unworkable, explained 3rd District Councilor Em Westerlund.
"It's unfortunate that we don't have the capacity to do what we've had on the books as part of our snow management over the past many years," she said.
"I do think it's important we make this change so that the public does not feel that the city has a law that we ourselves are not able to follow through on in executing," Westerlund said. "While it might look like we're taking something away, I think it's just a more accurate reflection of what's been happening in practice for many years," she said.
The amended ordinance passed on a 7-1 vote, with 5th District Councilor Jay Fosle opposed and 1st District Councilor Gary Anderson absent due to a prior commitment.