The voice of the voiceless?

Council Strips the HRC of power to look into police issues

In a matter of just three months, the City Council disbanded the Human Relations Commission, re-wrote its charter and then appointed new membership. The great crime of the previous Human Relations Commission appeared to be advocating for a specific issue.

And it’s in some ways ironic that the very night that the Davis City Council approved the hire of an ombudsman, Bob Aaronson (an act that never would have happened without the direct intervention and sweat and blood of the previous commission) they also rewrote the rules for the new the commission to make it so they could effectively never do this again.

Let it be clear—this was done clearly because the majority of three on the city council did not like the way the HRC advocated for a police oversight board. They said as much.

In defending the decision to remove the police issue from the HRC and at least temporarily from the public purview, Stephen Souza reminded us all that in fact, they were a public body, they were a permanent body, and that any complaints about the police should go to them—the city council. They are the ones that can take action.

However, that is not the way it is supposed to work. The commission system is designed as a filter for public discourse—they can take their complaints to the commission, the commission has the charge to research and investigate and then make recommendations to the city council as to how to act. What this city council wants to do is remove the commissions (and not just the HRC) from public deliberations and concentrate power within the city staff and the city council. The city council would not operate effectively if each individual with a complaint took the complaint directly to the council rather than to the commissions.

Or did they?

The intent of the council is very clear:



The Subcommittee agreed that, with the addition of a Citizen Advisory Board to the Police Chief, a Police Advisory Committee to the City Manager, a contract Police Ombudsman for the community and other steps underway in the police department, the Human Relations Commission should focus on issues other than police oversight.

However, the authorizing resolution is foggy. It makes no mention of exclusion. This point was raised at the city council meeting by members of the public. At this point, Don Saylor added language directing the HRC to “refer” police issues to the appropriate agency. But instead of clarifying the directive from council, it made it more ambiguous. Saylor acknowledged that there would have to be some degree of processing for that to occur. However, the plain meaning of the language itself does little to give one the impression that police issues are outside of the purview of the commission’s resolution.

Sue Greenwald, was unclear about the meaning of the added language and ended up voting against it. Heystek, was generally opposed to the changes, and voted against it. Neither one was clear about the meaning of the language change, though talking to Heystek after the meeting he seemed to think that there was nothing in the language of the resolution itself that would preclude action by the council on police issues, however, the intent of the council was clear.

Resolution vs. Ordinance

Stephen Souza stated that they changed all of the commissions from ordinance to resolution unless they were required by law to have them as an ordinance. It is a subtle move but it greatly weakens many of the commissions. During this discussion, Souza maintained there was no functional difference; however, it was enlightening to hear him during an earlier discussion state that ordinances have “a little more teeth.” An ordinance writes the language into the municipal code and it requires one reading and then a second meeting to have a vote on the ordinance. A resolution can be changed at anytime by majority vote and it is not placed into the municipal code. This is another indication that the city council has tried to weaken the commission system in order to consolidate power within the council and city staff.

—Doug Paul Davis reporting


  • David Greenwald

    Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

    View all posts


Civil Rights

Leave a Comment