Over 260 people attended a Zoom call special meeting convened by the Monroe County Council to approve the sheriff’s department’s request for deputy hires. Sheriff Brad Swain withdrew the request for the time being at the beginning of the meeting, citing budget uncertainty.
The council passed a resolution in April that all county departments had to seek the county approval for new hires during the hiring freeze that is currently in place.
Council member Geoff McKim said the request for hires that was addressed at today’s meeting was sent by the sheriff’s department last month. He said the council was notified that it was time-sensitive May 28 and that there would be a special meeting about it June 4.
This is also when the legally required notice was sent to the press, in which no context was given as to what the special meeting was about. The agenda for the meeting, which was shared widely on social media by groups such as the Purple Shirt Brigade, was posted for the public yesterday.
“This happened well before any protest was considered,” McKim said, referring to tomorrow’s protest. “I think we need to start understanding how information about our meetings gets distributed and how we can do a better job of getting things out to the public beyond just the legally required notice. Because the legally required notice says nothing.”
Meeting attendees in the Zoom call’s chat constantly wrote messages such as “DEFUND THE POLICE,” “VOTE,” “FUCK THE POLICE,” “ACAB,” as well as criticisms and praise to what the council members said and calls to let the public talk. One participant held up signs saying “Absolutely NOT, “Your council is too white” and “We hate you, Swain.” The meeting was limited to an hour due to council members’ other obligations at 2 p.m.
The council approved a motion to create a town hall meeting in the near future to let community members speak about the hires and the local justice system. The town hall meeting date will be determined on the council’s Tuesday meeting.
Many council members expressed their enthusiasm for how many attendees there were at the meeting, thanked the sheriff for withdrawing his request and talked about recent police brutality in the news and local justice system reform.
After voting on a motion to schedule a town hall meeting, council member Kate Wiltz suggested letting people of color on the call share what they had to say as all the county council members are white. There was a pause as council members discussed upcoming obligations and whether to let others talk or wait for the town hall meeting.
“We can do public comment, it’s just how am I going to decide who is black enough to talk,” said Eric Evans, chief technology director for the county.
The chat blew up with criticism toward Evans while Jada Bee, a core council member of Black Lives Matter Bloomington, was chosen to lead the discussion from the chat’s suggestion.
Bee said she liked the idea of a town hall but said she did not want it to play out like the city council’s decision about purchasing an armored truck.
“We need to be very sure that we are listening not just to the community but also to those most vulnerable within the community — meaning black voices, black queer voices, black trans voices — because what happens is that we are so often overlooked in these conversations,” Bee said.
She also mentioned high arrest rates of black people in Monroe County and the need for more legislation to protect people of color and lessen policing.
Janai Weeks, a recent black IU graduate, suggested diversity and inclusion training for police in Bloomington. Jenae Cummings, a black, queer local resident, urged council members to educate themselves about racial issues, read books and talk to people.
“There is a long way that Bloomington has to go,” Cummings said. “There is a level to which Bloomington thinks about itself, but it is not there. It is a very, very long march to getting there, and I suggest you all start putting in the work and being uncomfortable and learning.”
Wiltz was one of the most outspoken council members.
“Right now, right here is not the time to continue business as usual in law enforcement," Wiltz said. “Our black and brown neighbors have been devalued by our white institutions, and we, in our whiteness, have a reckoning that we need to address.”
Wiltz mentioned the council invested in an examination of the local justice system, which began last summer, with a goal to make it a system that protects people who need it most. Council member Cheryl Munson said the examination includes every aspect of the justice system, not just the sheriff department.
“We are in the process of awaiting a report from the people who have carried out this study over, I think, 18 months,” Munson said. “We need to examine this very carefully and discuss this. This will be part of something the community also discusses.”
Lauren McCalister was another black resident who spoke at the meeting.
“Well this has been embarrassing,” McCalister said. “I have taken time like you have, I’ve been patient, I’ve raised my hand. While you’re examining data, we’re dying. While you’ve withdrawn this request, we’re still dying. While you’re talking about respectable politics and civility, we’re still dying.”
McCalister and other residents such as Ricky Mouser called for the council to vote not to let the sheriff hire new deputies and to defund the police. No council member responded to these requests.
Sheriff Swain said the decision on the hires can wait, but one deputy needs to get on the payroll as soon as possible in order to be able to attend the academy, which begins soon. Swain also left slightly early from the meeting while attendees were still speaking.
The call was cut off before people were done discussing what came next. In an interview after the meeting, County Council President Eric Spoonmore said it was due to the fact that their technology director hosted the meeting on another county employee’s account, and the employee began an election board meeting shortly after 2 p.m. on her account, not knowing it was being used for the county council special meeting.
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