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City Council accused of violating police reform settlement agreement

- Letter to federal court judge rips City Council

- Failure of council to renew the contract of CPOA Director Ed Harness is a violation of the settlement agreement, letter to judge says

- So is failure to fill vacant positions on the POB

The Albuquerque City Council has been accused of trying to subvert the police department's reform effort by failing to renew the contract of the director of the Civilian Police Oversight Agency and by failing to promptly fill vacancies on the Police Oversight Board.

The accusation came in the form of a letter Friday from the CPOA's attorneys to the federal court judge who is overseeing the reform effort.

According to the letter to U.S. District Court Judge Robert Brack, the City Council has violated the Department of Justice's settlement agreement with the city by failing to renew the contract of CPOA Director Ed Harness. The settlement agreement, or CASA [Court Approved Settlement Agreement] says that the CPOA's “Executive Director will be selected by and work under the supervision of the agency.”

The CASA also says that “The City shall ensure that the agency [CPOA and the POB] remains accountable to, but independent from, the Mayor, the City Attorney’s Office, the City Council, and APD. None of these entities shall have the authority to alter the agency’s findings, operations, or processes, except by amendment to the agency’s enabling ordinance.”

But here's the rub. The POB voted unanimously on May 16 to give Harness another three-year contract. And on June 1, the POB notified the City of its decision regarding Harness' contract. But on Aug. 20, the council deferred action on Harness' contract, and that has got the COPA and the POB mad.

“City Council’s failure to timely take action regarding Director Harness’ contract renewal, coupled with the City and City Council’s incorrect belief that it has authority to veto the POB’s selection of its Executive Director—in direct violation of the CASA—is interfering with the CPOA’s and POB’s ability to perform important duties,” The CPOA's letter to Brack said.

“The potential loss of Director Harness not only adversely impacts the important work of the CPOA and POB, it could also lead to serious and troubling setbacks with CASA compliance. In the event that Director Harness is not reconfirmed as CPOA Executive Director during City Council’s November 19, 2018 meeting, my clients request that the matter be presented to the Court for consideration at the December 7, 2018 hearing. They further provide notice that they may need to provide the Parties and the Court supplemental information regarding this issue.”

Harness' contract renewal is up for consideration on the council's Nov. 19 agenda, but the CPOA's letter to Brack said that “Even if this matter is on the agenda, City Council has signaled the possibility that this contract will not be reconfirmed.”

If the council refuses to renew Harness' contract it would be a direct violation of the CASA, the letter to Brack said.

Additionally, the letter to Brack said that the POB currently has six members instead of the nine it is supposed to have. The council has refused to approve new members despite having a list of around 70 applicants, the letter to Brack said.

And two current POB members whose terms of soon to expire have asked to be reappointed, but the council has taken no action on those requests, the letter to Brack said. The letter added that the council is allegedly delaying making any appointments to the POB until it can amend the Police Oversight Ordinance. But approving new POB members “should not be tied to any possible Ordinance amendments,” the letter to Brack said.

The letter concluded: “The City and City Council’s failure to timely fill the vacant POB positions, coupled with City Council’s decision to delay the reconfirmation of Director Harness, are indications of troubling trends that require intervention before they adversely impact CASA compliance. City Council and the City are attempting to exercise authority in a way that is detrimental to the CPOA

and POB, and these actions/inactions have the potential to be very challenging for CASA compliance efforts.”

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