Antioch Council to consider cancelling grant for six School Resource Officers Tuesday, Brown Act violations alleged

All six positions are ready to be filled, today; Questions to both elected officials and city staff ignored

Desalination plant budget increase by $50 million and contract on agenda

Discussion on roundtable meetings on racial injustice and police-community relations also on agenda

By Allen Payton

During the first and special meeting of the new Antioch City Council, tonight, Tuesday, December 15, at 6:00 p.m., they will consider rescinding the vote by the previous council of accepting a federal grant to help fund six police officers on Antioch middle and high school campuses. The three-year, $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) Hiring Program, along with matching funds from the Antioch School District, approved by the school board, earlier this year, would pay for the officer. (See related article, here)

The issue was a matter of controversy when the school board considered voting on the matching funds, with the first meeting being interrupted by a protest, including protesters pounding on the windows and door, and even breaking into the school district offices during the meeting. That meeting was abruptly ended and continued a few days later during which the SRO’s were approved on a 3-2 vote. (See related articles, here, here and here)

In an email sent Sunday night to Mayor Lamar Thorpe he was asked, “while you voted against accepting the grant, during the campaign you repeatedly stated you are not for defunding police. Yet, if you now vote to rescind the approved $750,000 grant to help pay for six police officers on Antioch middle and high school campuses, aren’t you in effect voting to defund police?” He did not respond prior to publication time.

In addition, during a campaign interview Walker said, “Right now, everyone deserves quality policing services. If we are always in opposition…it’s because we’re not talking to each other” referring to the police and community. She was asked since the intent of the SRO’s is to create community policing on the campuses, and develop communication and relationships between Antioch police officers and students, why would she not want the SRO’s on the campuses? Walker did not respond.

Questions About Who Can Place the Item On Agenda and Others Go Unanswered

Additional questions were emailed Sunday night to City Attorney Thomas Smith, City Clerk Ellie Householder and City Manager Ron Bernal including how does it work within both state law and Robert’s Rules of Order for a council member to bring back something for reconsideration that was already passed/approved/adopted by the council?

If a motion fails, it takes one of those who voted for the motion to bring back the item for reconsideration. They were all asked does the same apply to an item that was approved? Who requested the item to be placed on Tuesday’s agenda? Was it Mayor Thorpe and/or another council member? Finally, what is the deadline for the city to rescind the funds?

Instead of answering the questions, on Monday morning, Householder referred them to the city’s Public Information Officer (PIO) Rolando Bonilla writing, “I’m CC’ing the City’s PIO, Rolando, to this email. He can address your questions.”

The same questions were sent again to the same four plus Thorpe, Monday night. But still no response.

Bonilla has not responded to the questions either in the 24 hours since he received them.

However, it was learned Tuesday morning from an official who chose to remain anonymous, that it was Thorpe who requested the item be placed on the agenda.

The question remains, if it requires someone who voted for the motion to bring it back for reconsideration, that could only be Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock, because she’s the only remaining council member who voted for the grant, along with former Mayor Sean Wright and former Mayor Pro Tem Joy Motts, both of whom lost their bids for re-election.

Possible Open Meeting Law Violations

In  addition, it has been alleged that the state’s Brown Act open meeting law has been violated by both Mayor Lamar Thorpe and District 1 Councilwoman Tamisha Walker, for having serial meetings, which means speaking with more than one other council member about an agenda item before it’s discussed in public. It’s alleged that Thorpe spoke to both Walker and District 2 Councilman Mike Barbanica. Walker is accused of also speaking to District 3 Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock, after she spoke with Thorpe.

Although Thorpe, along with Mayor Pro Tem Monica Wilson voted against the council’s approval of the grant also on a 3-2 vote, he claimed repeatedly during his recent campaign that he was not for defunding police. Asked if a vote to rescind was, in effect, defunding police he responded,

Asked if he had spoken to both Walker and Barbanica about the SRO’s before tonight’s meeting, Thorpe did not respond to multiple attempts to contact him for this report.

When asked if she spoke with both Thorpe and Ogorchock about the agenda items Walker responded, “I took the oath of office December 7th and have not talked to anyone concerning this or any matter before the council.”

However, the Brown Act applies to candidates who were elected beginning on Election Night. So, a follow up question was asked if Walker had spoken to any other council member about the SRO’s since Election Night. She did not respond as of publication time.

An attempt to reach Ogorchock, asking if she had spoken to Walker about rescinding the grant for the SRO’s, but she too did not respond as of publication time. Attempt to reach Barbanica, asking if he had spoken to Thorpe about rescinding the grant for the SRO’s, were unsuccessful before publication time.

Hiring Process Has Already Started, All Six Positions Could Be Filled, Today

The hiring process for the six SRO’s has begun, according to Antioch Police Chief T Brooks. He was also asked if any of the grant money had been spent, yet, and if there is a deadline for rescinding the grant.

“We’ve already selected all six SRO’s, because they were all police officers with us, already,” he stated. “So, basically the grant is to hire additional positions. I am authorized 115 officers. With the grant, that would raise my sworn authorized to 121 because I would have had to create new positions for it. I would be able to pay for the new officers by using the grant money to offset the costs. The remaining portion is being split 50/50 with the school district.”

“They were interviewed and the interview process involved members of the police department, staff of the AUSD, teachers union and students,” Brooks explained. “They were all selected and chosen for which school they were going to work at. We were just waiting for the schools to open.”

“None of the grant money has been spent, yet,” he continued. Regarding the deadline he said he didn’t know.

“The grants actually became effective July 1, 2020. But we haven’t started drawing on them,” Brooks shared. “So, we would be able to extend it on the back end. The COPS office, due to the pandemic would allow us to apply for extensions for use of the funding.”

The department was authorized by the city council to overhire by five additional officers, earlier this year, for a total of 120 sworn officers who are currently on the force. Plus, there is one prospective officer currently in the academy. So, all six positions could be filled, today.

Desalination Plant Budget Increase & Construction Contract

In addition, the council will consider increasing the budget for the brackish water desalination plant by $50 million to a total of $110 million and approve the construction contract of $86,689,000.

Roundtable Meetings on Racial Injustice & Police-Community Relations

Plus, the council will be asked to provide direction to city staff on getting back on track the planned Bridging the Gap community roundtable discussions on racial injustice and police-community relations. The city has hired a consulting firm to help facilitate the virtual meetings. According to the staff report on the item, three roundtable discussions are proposed to begin early next year with the topics of 1) Police Oversight, Accountability and Transparency; 2) Racial Disparities in Policing; and 3) Police-Community Engagement.

Making a Public Comment

The item is number 4 on the council’s agenda. For those wanting to submit a public comment to be read during the meeting, click here or email cityclerk@ci.antioch.ca.us prior to the Mayor announcing that public comment is closed, and the comment will be read into the record at the meeting (350 words maximum, up to 3 minutes, at the discretion of the Mayor). IMPORTANT: Identify the agenda item in the subject line of your email (i.e. “Public Comments” or a specific Agenda Item number).

For those who want to call in and speak live during the public comment period on the item, click here. You will be asked to enter an email address and a name. Your email address will not be disclosed to the public. After registering, you will receive an email with instructions on how to connect to the meeting. – When the Mayor announces public comments, click the “raise hand” feature in Zoom. For instructions on using the “raise hand” feature in Zoom, visit: https://www.antiochca.gov/raise_hand. The meeting can be viewed via livestream on the city’s website, or on Comcast/Xfinity local cable Channel 24 beginning at 6:00 p.m.

Please check back later to any updates to this report.

 

 

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