Mayor Tom Butt convenes first meeting of Richmond’s new city council
on January 21, 2015
On Tuesday mayor Tom Butt called the new city council to order for the first time. On the agenda: electing a vice mayor, disbanding the Public Safety and Finance standing committees, and removing the time limits on debate for council members.
Butt, a long-time council member, started out on a light note. “Nobody is to call me Madam Mayor,” he said to laughs from the dais and the crowd. Despite his warning, a few people stuttered, used to referring to former Mayor Gayle McLaughlin as “Madam Mayor” for the past eight years.
The first order of business was to elect a new vice mayor. After a few brief comments commending outgoing Vice Mayor Jovanka Beckles on her tenure, Nat Bates nominated Jael Myrick, elected to the council this year after being appointed to fill an empty seat in 2013. Five members on the council voted in favor, with Myrick abstaining from the vote.
Then the council opened the floor for public comment. A handful of the speakers were family and friends of Marceleno “Leno” Gonzales, a young man shot twice by a Richmond police officer on January 15. Gonzales survived and is currently in a hospital Intensive Care Unit, and according to his family he has regained consciousness.
Richmond police told the Contra Costa Times that the officer shot Gonzales after he wielded a gun, although there is no evidence Gonzales’ gun was fired.
Courtney Cummings, his aunt, approached the podium and was joined by a group of young people holding signs with the messages “Native lives matter” and “We want answers.” She asked the city council to investigate the officer-involved shooting. “I hope that with fairness and good judgment that you choose to look at this case closely and scrutinize it,” said Cummings.
After the public comment period ended, the protestors filed out of the building and gathered outside. Kristen Gonzales, another of the man’s aunts, raised questions about the body cameras that Richmond police are now wearing. In December, the department received over 100 body cameras that are to be worn by all officers in the field on their lapels. But the officer who shot Gonzales did not have his camera on at the time.
“Richmond police, I feel, are crooked” Gonzales said. “The police cam was not turned on during the incident,” she added. “It was turned on after my nephew laid there for 20 minutes bleeding.”
Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus was present at the council meeting but there was no discussion of the incident on the agenda.
After the public comment session, the city council moved through their agenda, addressing some logistical changes proposed by Butt to streamline the council’s business. The proposals included disbanding certain committees and loosening rules for council members conduct during meetings.
Butt said the daytime meetings for standing committees are inaccessible to many working people. He also cited the committees’ lack of authority to make decisions, duplicative duties, and the city staff time required to staff the meetings as his reasons for changing the process.
Bates and some members of the audience opposed the proposal, expressing concerns about removing layers of oversight, especially regarding the budget.
“I want to speak in opposition to this change in structure,” Bates said, adding that having a balanced budget is the city’s highest priority. “I don’t know how you’re going to accomplish that unless you have someone overseeing [it].”
After much debate, the council voted 5-to-1, with Bates dissenting, to eliminate the Finance and Public Safety standing committees.
The council also voted unanimously to suspend the 5-minute time limit imposed on debate by council members. The wording in the resolution that passed will suspend the limit for 45 days to “see if voluntary cooperation by council members can achieve the same result.”
The time limits were approved by the last city council in response to contentious and chaotic meetings that gained the council unwanted notoriety. Former council member Corky Boozé attended Tuesday’s meeting and spoke during the public comment period to criticize the new council. He pointed out that during the meeting, when the 5-minute limit was still technically in place, the council “didn’t follow any of the rules,” and that the clerk had not been monitoring council members speaking time.
Despite a multi million-dollar election that gained national attention, the new city council adjourned looking much like the old city council, with Eduardo Martinez being the only fresh face. But there will soon be another new member when the council fills the seat left vacant by Butt’s move to mayor. And the progressives are hoping to bolster their majority.
The council is currently seeking candidates for the open seat, and voted on Tuesday to alter the timeline for filling the seat. The council voted to accept statements of interest until February 3, and will vote on whom to appoint to the seat on February 10.
The next council meeting will take place on February 3.
The article has been updated to clarify that Chief Magnus was at the council meeting but he was not asked for comment.
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