West Linn plans bias, equity audit after Fesser settlement
As the city of West Linn settles into a "new normal," due to changes brought on by COVID-19, it is also moving forward from the other crisis to rock the city this year: fallout from the Michael Fesser case.
Michael Fesser, a black man from Portland, was illegally surveyed and wrongfully arrested by West Linn Police in 2017. A $600,000 payout to Fesser to settle his civil lawsuit against the city last month led WLPD into a harsh media spotlight as damning revelations about WLPD dominated public discourse.
"I feel like we have two crises happening at the same time and one will take precedence over the other one at times, but I want to make sure that we're pressing forward on making sure that all of our citizens are safe in both of them," City councilor Jules Walters said during a meeting Monday, March 30.
At the beginning of the meeting, several citizens testified (via conference call or letters to the council) that because of the recent revelations regarding the police department, they would like Chief Terry Kruger to be fired or placed on leave. Abby Farber, who has organized a group called the Concerned Citizens of West Linn, said during her testimony that some people in West Linn fear for their lives because of WLPD.
Interim City Manager John Williams told the council (councilors attended the meeting via teleconference) that some plans concerning the Fesser matter temporarily took a backseat as city staff dealt with COVID-19-related changes across the city. Specifically Williams mentioned a compilation of community input and a timeline regarding the case were put on hold, but will take priority once again as staff settles into adjustments resulting from the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Still, staff updated the council with information about a city bias and equity audit, which councilors requested after the Fesser scandal launched the city into a national spotlight.
Library Director Doug Erickson prepared a request for qualifications (RFQ) for the audit.
"COWL (city of West Linn) is seeking the development of a city-wide Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) program for our employees," the RFQ reads. "This program would include policy development, employee training modules, conduct initial employee training, and provide COWL with a framework to carry forward this work."
Williams said it's hard to determine when the audit could be completed because staff doesn't know what auditing entails amid restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Councilors said they want the diversity work resulting from the audit to continue into the future.
"We want to have a way to measure our progress," Council President Teri Cummings said.
The RFQ notes that the city has a budget of about $40,000 for the audit.
Williams also told the council that the city has kept up with information requests from other jurisdictions investigating its handling of the Fesser case, but noted that staff didn't know the timeline or scope of those investigations. District attorneys from Clackamas and Multnomah counties, and U.S. Attorney Billy Williams have all launched investigations of the case.
Walters said she'd like the diversity task force created by the city to possibly include professors, lawyers, retired law enforcement officers, or people that teach criminal justice, who can help the city form a plan for police oversight.
Prior to the meeting, the council met in executive session to discuss certain records related to West Linn police that are exempt from public inspection.
The council did not finish its discussion during the executive session and scheduled a continuation of the session for Wednesday, April 1. Councilors said they'd like to update citizens on how they are addressing certain community concerns once they finish the discussion.
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