What are adequate guardrails and gatekeepers?
[ By Mark Reaman ]
Determining the best way for people, especially people of color, to file complaints against the local marshal’s office when appropriate, was the topic of a lengthy, circuitous, two-hour discussion at the Crested Butte town council meeting Monday night that ended with no resolution except to continue the discussion at the March 15 meeting.
After recommendations were made by the Black Lives Matter Community Coalition in January, the town had adjusted some of its complaint policies. But the BLM group’s executive board felt further adjustments were needed and submitted more specific requests to the town in February. Those refinements asked that any written complaint filed against the marshals be reviewed by the town’s Human Resources (HR) department and not by the marshal’s department. It was suggested that oral complaints that allege racial bias would also go to HR. The board also made several suggestions on how to rework the online complaint form.
Town manager Dara MacDonald and chief marshal Mike Reily responded to the new recommendations in a detailed memo and did not agree with several of the new suggestions. MacDonald made clear that the town takes seriously any allegation of employee misconduct and tried to delineate such serious complaints from run-of-the-mill service complaints. She said service complaints should not necessarily be run through HR but be addressed initially by the marshals. She said the vast majority of written or oral complaints received by the town fall into that “service complaint” category.
She and Reily both said that as long as they have been in their positions, the town had not received any complaints alleging misconduct. Town councilman Will Dujardin said he understood there had been at least one allegation of racial profiling in the mid-2000s and he described the town’s response to the BLM recommendations as “defensive.” He, along with councilwoman Mallika Magner sit on the BLM Community Coalition executive board.
“We feel there are sufficient review mechanisms in place to make sure something serious is investigated,” said MacDonald. “The guardrails are in place.”
“Why oppose more guardrails then,” asked Magner.
MacDonald said among other things she did not feel it appropriate to put the eight working marshals under additional scrutiny when their history and code of conduct make clear they have performed admirably. “To say they need another layer of scrutiny is impactful on them as people,” she said.
“With all due respect, how can you say there is no problem,” asked Dujardin.
“I have asked and asked and it has never been communicated to me there is a specific problem,” said MacDonald. “If you are sitting on something and there is an issue, please let us know. We definitely want to address it.”
“Some people do not feel safe using the current methods. That’s the point of this,” said BLM board member Andrea Schumacher.
“We are not casting dispersions on the marshals,” added BLM board member Laird Cagan. “We want to address potential future problems. We don’t want the national problems we all see to happen here. Police don’t investigate themselves. That’s why we don’t want written complaints handled by the marshals.”
“There is no intent to disparage the Crested Butte marshals. Really great people work there,” said Schumacher. “But this coalition started because several members of this community feel racism is part of this community. This is about providing a safe, transparent process to bring complaints to the table. We cannot continue to do things the same as we have in the past. It is time to do things differently. Our recommendation is to make it easier for people to file complaints. HR is an unbiased third party and the current process is not. People of color in our community do not feel they can just go and call Mike or Dara with an issue like others can.”
“Everyone is struggling to comprehend this request because it’s a small town,” said Chloe Bowman, the executive board chair. “But people of color don’t have these connections. This is meant for people who don’t have those comfortable channels. A little bit of prevention is better than trying to fix mistakes later on. Yes, we are asking to do some things that are unprecedented but it is for the betterment of the community.”
MacDonald said she did not understand why town policies in place were not considered to address those concerns since any complaint, however it is filed, is reviewed. She said the town staff was drawing the distinction between service complaints and complaints of misconduct.
“I get where you are coming from but will side with our constituents over the marshals who I trust to be professionals,” said Dujardin.
Magner emphasized that written complaints were considered more serious than oral ones by the BLM board and thus needed the HR department as the “gatekeeper” instead of the marshal’s office. She said the board didn’t want the marshals determining what was a serious complaint against the marshals.
Reily said supervisors within his department were trained to deal with complaints. “You have to trust that the supervisors we employ will hold people accountable,” he said. “There is always someone to go to if a person doesn’t feel the complaint is handled appropriately. It could be the town manager, the attorney general or the FBI.”
“Our intent is to simply make it easier, safer and more transparent from the beginning if there is an incident,” reiterated Schumacher.
“We have the same goal,” said Reily. “We made several changes in January based on the BLM recommendations.
While Cagan and Schumacher wanted every written complaint to be filtered through the town’s HR department, MacDonald wanted delineation between service complaints and misconduct allegations.
After almost two hours of such discussion, councilwoman Laura Mitchell suggested the topic be tabled to another meeting when everyone was more fresh. Council asked that the topic be put on the March 15 meeting for more discussion. Mayor Jim Schmidt asked that the town staff and representatives of the BLM board meet before then to see if language acceptable to both can be brought to the council at the next meeting.