The East Lansing City Council unanimously appointed 11 members to the newly-formed Police Oversight Commission at the Oct. 5 Council meeting. The commission is expected to hold its first meeting this November.
Although East Lansing commission appointments are usually done on the Council’s consent agenda (without any discussion), Mayor Jessy Gregg called the seating of the commission “a very important step forward” when she presented the matter. She noted that it appeared on the business agenda in case Council wanted to discuss the appointments and because “we kind of wanted to invest a little bit more gravity into this first seating of members.”
The mayor named the moment as “the first seating of a very important commission that has been a very long time in the making.”
Gregg and Council member Ron Bacon, along with Director of Human Resources Shelli Neumann and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Administrator Elaine Hardy, interviewed 37 candidates for the commission over the course of two weeks. According to Bacon, interviews were conducted in 15 minute blocks, and candidates were asked four questions.
“It was a very, very good group of local citizen participants,” Bacon said at the Oct. 5 Council meeting. “This is a very difficult process; we could have made three of these commissions out of the group that came through.”
Members of Council praised the applicants for their willingness to serve the City of East Lansing. Council member Dana Watson thanked those who applied and said this commission has “been something that we’ve needed in this community.”
Tuesday’s discussion of the appointments included what would happen if a commission member also had an active complaint against ELPD, an issue raised at the meeting by Shanna Draheim, who was recently appointed to Council. Draheim called management of this issue “critical for the integrity of this commission as well as Council taking advice from them.”
Gregg responded by indicating she knew which proposed commissioner Draheim was talking about in her remarks, but no one named the person.
“My feeling is that if a complaint arises from one of the individual commissioners, they might have to resign their commission and work from the outside rather than from the inside,” Gregg said. “I think it’s known that somebody on the commission could not use the commission to file a police complaint. They would have to find a different way to get satisfaction.”
Draheim then pressed the matter, saying, “I do feel very strongly if any of these commissioners . . . that if there’s any kind of a case active with the City, that actually recusing on just that matter is not going to be sufficient. That there actually does need to be a resignation from that body. That’s my personal opinion.”
This practice would put this commission out of sync with others in East Lansing, for which appointees simply recuse themselves if a matter concerning them personally is up for consideration. For example, developers with millions of dollars in business before the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) have recused themselves, rather than resigning, when their business is up for a vote by the DDA. Gregg recused herself on Tuesday night when Council had to vote on a relatively minor matter (a street closure) concerning her fabric business.
That this might be handled differently suggests the politically charged nature of this new commission, which will deal not primarily with finances but with policing concerns. Speaking to the unique nature of this new body, Gregg said she thought the oversight commission would need “guidance not in how to do their job but in how to decide how to do their job, if that makes sense.” She suggested that the commission send its administrative procedures plan to Council for approval.
How were the commissioners selected?
Thirty-nine people applied to be on the commission, 37 were interviewed, and 11 were chosen to sit on the commission in staggered terms.
According to Ordinance 1503, the resolution that created the Oversight Commission in July 2021, the commission should “reflect the city’s diverse population” on the basis of traits like “race, ethnicity, national origin, income level, age, student status, gender, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity or expression.”
The ordinance also states, “People who are vulnerable and have been marginalized and who tend to have significant negative interactions with the police should be amply represented.” At least two members are to be social workers or psychologists, and two members may live outside of East Lansing.
ELi obtained the applications for the commission through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in August. Applicants did not always include their race, ethnicity, gender, or other identities on their submissions, but ELi can confirm that two social workers, one psychologist, and one Lansing resident were appointed to the commission.
Here is what we know about those who were appointed.
Ernest J. Conerly, appointed for a full term ending Dec. 31, 2024, is a middle school teacher at the Mid-Michigan Leadership Academy and has spent years working with at-risk youth and previously incarcerated individuals.
Ron Fink, appointed for a full term ending Dec. 31, 2024, works for the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency after serving in the U.S. Air Force for twenty years and also volunteers his time mentoring youth at The Turning Point of Lansing.
Dr. Sharon R. Hobbs, appointed for a full term ending Dec. 31, 2024, is a clinical psychologist who has worked with family courts and juvenile justice. She has taught at Michigan State University and now runs a private practice in East Lansing.
Benjamin Hughes, appointed for a full term ending Dec. 31, 2024, is an education specialist for the Ingham Intermediate School District.
Shawn Farzam, appointed for a partial term ending Dec. 31, 2023, is an account executive for an insurance agency and has lived in East Lansing for most of his life, attending East Lansing Public Schools and later serving as an assistant coach at East Lansing High School.
Erick Williams, appointed for a partial term ending Dec. 31, 2023, is an administrative law judge who has previously served on the Human Rights Commission and Study Committee on an Independent Police Oversight Commission in East Lansing.
Kath Edsall, appointed for a partial term ending Dec. 31, 2023, is a trustee on the ELPS Board of Education and works as a veterinarian for Capital Area Humane Society.
Robin O. Etchison, appointed for a partial term ending Dec. 31, 2023, is recently retired from General Motors and has previously volunteered with at-risk youth and people experiencing homelessness.
Noel Garcia, Jr., appointed for a partial term ending Dec. 31, 2022, is a Law Enforcement Instructor for Wilson Talent Center and previously worked as a Lansing police officer for 25 years. He also served on the Study Committee on an Independent Police Oversight Commission.
Gwen Dobrowolski, appointed for a partial term ending Dec. 31, 2022, is a social worker previously employed by Ingham County as a Child Protective Services Worker and by MSU as an instructor.
Amanda R. Morgan, appointed for a partial term ending Dec. 31, 2022, is a social worker who lives in Lansing. She has worked for Community Mental Health Authority of Clinton, Eaton, and Ingham Counties since 2004.
The Oversight Commission will meet on the second Monday of each month, beginning Nov. 8, 2021. Meetings will be open to the public. ELi will be covering the work of the commission as we have the events leading up to and surrounding its creation.
Alice Dreger contributed reporting.
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