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Competing Versions Of Civilian Police Oversight Board Both Stall In Public Safety Committee

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Efforts to create a new civilian oversight panel for the Chicago Police Department stalled yet again on Friday, as a key City Council committee refused to consider the latest proposal offered by a coalition of grassroots organizations, and Mayor Lori Lightfoot pulled her own competing bid from consideration.

The Public Safety Committee had been set to vote Friday on the two competing civilian police oversight proposals, but when Ald. Harry Osterman (48th), the chief sponsor of the grassroots proposal, sought to introduce a new compromise supporters had worked out, the committee voted 10-9 to refuse to consider it.

Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), who chairs the committee, chastised supporters of the grassroots proposal –also known as the Empowering Communities for Public Safety [ECPS] ordinance – for waiting until 30 minutes before the meeting to offer their latest version.

When the committee refused to take up the new version of the grassroots plan, Osterman asked to recess the meeting until Monday afternoon, but when that vote also failed, Osterman and his co-sponsors asked to pull the old version of their proposal from consideration, rather than face an up-or-down vote that likely would have failed.

"I'm disappointed with the outcome of not accepting the substitute to the ordinance given the amount of work and the fact that we've waited four years to vote on this matter," Osterman said.

The substitute ordinance would have removed a provision calling for a binding referendum in 2022, asking voters to approve the creation of an 11-member board -- with nine elected members and two appointed by the board itself -- empowered to hire and fire the police superintendent, set CPD policy, negotiate contracts with unions representing officers, and set the department's budget – stripping away those powers from the mayor and the City Council, which Lightfoot vehemently opposes.

Taliaferro said he'd been warning supporters of the grassroots proposal for weeks that there wasn't enough support in the City Council to approve putting such a referendum on the ballot, and said supporters should have come forward sooner with a compromise so aldermen would have been comfortable voting on it Friday.

"I've screamed it to the rooftop. I've screamed it to the rooftop over and over and over again about this substitute, and pulling the referendum, because I felt that it would negatively impact our Police Department. I felt that it would negatively impact our city," Taliaferro said.

The chairman said he believes, had the newest version of the grassroots proposal been offered sooner, its sponsors "would have the support that you wanted for the ECPS ordinance."

"No one listened," he added.

By removing the plan for such a referendum, the latest version of the ordinance instead would establish a civilian oversight commission empowered to set CPD policy; while leaving budgeting in the hands of the City Council, and negotiating police union contracts in the hands of the mayor's office.

The panel would be empowered to hire and fire the chief administrator of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, which handles investigations of police shootings and complaints of police misconduct.

Osterman said the compromise he and co-sponsors of the ECPS ordinance have reached "brings civilian oversight with appropriate checks and balances for the council, the mayor, and the police."

Lightfoot has offered her own competing proposal for civilian oversight of CPD, which would allow her to retain the power to hire and fire the police superintendent, the chief administrator of the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, and members of the Chicago Police Board. She also would also keep final say over the departments' policies and budgets.

The mayor repeatedly has said, because she "wears the jacket" for crime in Chicago, she's not willing to essentially hand over control of CPD to a civilian oversight board.

Lightfoot's plan would create a temporary oversight panel, which she would appoint.

Three-member civilian "district councils" in each of the city's 22 police districts would then nominate candidates for a seven-member civilian oversight commission. The mayor would then appoint commission members from that list of nominees.

The commission would essentially take over the Chicago Police Board's role in selecting a new superintendent when there is a vacancy; conducting a nationwide search, and providing the mayor with a list of finalists to pick from, subject to City Council confirmation.

However, like the grassroots civilian oversight plan, the mayor's proposal also would allow the commission to take a no-confidence vote against the superintendent, the head of COPA, or Police Board members. Such a vote would prompt a vote by the City Council on whether to recommend the superintendent, COPA administrator, or Police Board members be fired; but the mayor would still have the final say.

While the mayor's proposal originally was scheduled for a vote at Friday's meeting of the Public Safety Committee, Taliaferro said the mayor's office asked to pull it from consideration.

In a statement, the mayor's office said Lightfoot "remains firmly committed to passage of a strong and effective civilian oversight ordinance."

The mayor's office also said what happened in the Public Safety Committee indicated the ECPS ordinance lacks the support needed to pass.

"Last week, the Mayor's Office convened the stakeholders in an attempt to reignite a negotiation process in earnest to attempt to work through outstanding concerns about the various proposals, and the Mayor is committed to continuing that dialogue. The Mayor remains optimistic that eventually civilian oversight will happen. It is important, however, that the dialogue and tactics are unifying and not divisive," a mayor's office spokesperson wrote in an email.

It's unclear what the next step will be for either proposal, but in a tweet after Friday's meeting, Osterman said "We will not be deterred in our fight to pass this critical and long overdue legislation."

Supporters of the grassroots plan could still try to use a parliamentary maneuver to try to force a vote on the old version of their plan at the next full City Council meeting on Wednesday, but it's not clear if they would have the votes to pass it, much less survive a certain veto by the mayor.

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