Antioch Council votes to rescind DOJ grant for six School Resource Officers on split vote

Over 220 public comments, mostly in favor of rescinding the grant, of which about 80 were the same repeated message

By Anthony Dorado

During their Tuesday, Dec. 15 meeting, the Antioch City Council voted on a split, 3-2 vote to rescind the previous 3-2 vote to approve acceptance of a U.S. DOJ COPS Hiring Program Grant of $750,000 for six School Resource Officers (SRO’s). The council also approved of a series of virtual roundtable discussions on a broad range of topics pertaining to policing and racial disparities within policing. CORRECTION: In addition, the council discussed a $50 million budget increase for the Brackish Water Desalination Plant increasing it to $110 million, and the first construction contract of $87 million. But that was postponed until next Tuesday night.

Rescind Grant for SRO’s

The most controversial item on the agenda was the reconsideration of the U.S. DOJ COPS Hiring Program Grant that would have provided for six new School Resource Officers in the City of Antioch. This appeared to be the only matter that the Council held split views on. While Council Members Barbanica and Ogorchock saw this as an important step towards building trust between the youth and the police, Mayor Lamar Thorpe, Mayor Pro Tem Monica Wilson, and Council Member Tamisha Torres-Walker did not believe this would adequately address the problem of youth violence and educational failure.

Council Member Mike Barbanica stressed his own personal relationship with an SRO growing up, detailing how they would, “play football together,” and how it was overall a, “positive experience.” He also detailed his time interviewing particular administrators and teachers in the area and expressed how he had not spoken with a single one of them that was against receiving this grant. Thorpe however recounted his own time as a schoolteacher and stressed the importance of, “not treating our young people with contempt,” and joining Wilson and Torres-Walker in the opinion that the community and schools should focus on greater mental health support and not policing.

In addition, the cost for the six SROs would not be completely covered by the grant. It would provide a total of $750,000 over the course of three years, at $250,000 each year. The city council and the Antioch School Board agreed that they would split the cost 50/50, but the net cost to the city by would be in excess of $2,000,000 for the fourth year as part of the agreement with the DOJ. The council members who opposed the grant did not believe it was money worth spending on the six additional police officers for the department.

While the Council may have been split, the community members voicing their opinions were not so divided. This particular item received 227 public comments, the vast majority were in opposition to the addition of SROs on the Antioch campuses, and about 80 of the comments were the same message verbatim. In the end, the community opinion alongside the opinion of the new council majority prevailed, and the resolution to rescind the grant was passed on a 3-2 vote, with Thorpe, Wilson and Torres-Walker voting in favor, and Ogorchock and Barbanica voting against.

Desalination Plant Budget Increase & Contract Approval Postponed

The second item on the agenda was the aforementioned approval of a budget increase on the Brackish Water Desalination Plant. While the City Council appeared ready to cast their votes on the matter, John Samuelson, the City Engineer for the City of Antioch, requested that the Council vote to postpone the matter to a later date and meeting on account of a further consideration of the bid protest against Shimmick Construction Company Inc. brought forward by Overaa Co.  The Council unanimously voted to postpone the vote to a later date to be determined.

Bridging the Gap Roundtable Discussions

The third item on the agenda was a serious of roundtable discussions, entitled Bridging the Gap, that are planned for 2021. These virtually held roundtable discussions, begun earlier this year, are intended to give Antioch residents the opportunity to voice their opinions on their own experiences and understanding of racial relationships and conflict within the realm of policing. The goal is to raise awareness of racial disparities within policing, to foster community engagement and unity, and to shine a light on the steps needed to move forward towards racial equity. They will be hosted by CNA, a non-profit 501(c)(3) with professional experience assisting public agencies in the realm of public safety services.

The council all voted in the affirmative, but not without particular hesitations. Barbanica was the first to voice his hesitation that this would turn out to be an, “academic exercise that led nowhere,” and Wilson also joined him in her concern that this would simply be a, “dog and pony show that led to no results.” While Ogorchock, Torres-Walker and Thorpe agreed, they decided they would nevertheless give the process a chance, as well. The dates for the roundtable discussions have yet to be specified, but are expected to be held sometime in early 2021. The council voted in favor of the series of online community meetings on a 5-0 vote.

Increase Council Chamber Remodel Budget to $1.9 Million

In other action, the council authorized a third amendment increasing the contract with Saboo Inc. for the City Hall Council Chambers Remodel by $147,983.84 totaling the contract to $1,862,008.15. This contract would utilize Public, Educational, and Government (PEG) funds. Accepting work and authorizing a Notice of Completion. This agenda passed with unanimous consent, concluding in a 5-0 vote in the affirmative.

Council Committee Appointments

The fifth and final item on the agenda was the appointment to City Council and Ad Hoc Committees. Thorpe appointed Barbanica and himself to the transitional housing committee stating that he would begin meeting mid-2021 once they had worked through some housing proposals for the homeless. Wilson will remain on the Cannabis Committee. Torres-Walker also expressed interest in participating on the Cannabis Committee. The City – School Board Committee appointments were left to be dealt with after the school board elects their new leadership, which is expected at their meeting, tonight. All appointments were approved on a 5-0 vote by the council.

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