The Austin Chronicle

Naked City

Iris Jones Goes Public

By Jordan Smith, March 7, 2003, News

Last week ACLU attorney Ann del Llano and Austin Police Association President Mike Sheffield made strange bedfellows as they shared concerns that Police Monitor Iris Jones is violating the city's contract with the police union by not posting the meetings of her citizen review panel. This week Jones is irked by their assertion and says her office is doing its best to comply with the contract -- which created Austin's police oversight process -- and keep the office's dealings in the public purview. "There is nothing we intend to do, or desire to do, in private," she said.

The police contract describes Jones' citizen review panel as "purely advisory" and not subject to Open Meetings Act provisions -- but goes on to say the panel "shall accept input from the public on any case presented to it," in meetings that "shall be open to the public." Both del Llano and Sheffield say Jones has conducted several panel meetings without any public input, which they say conflicts with both the language and the spirit of the contract. Jones disagrees, saying the panel has only had one case "presented to it" as defined by the contract -- its October 2002 review of the Sophia King shooting, which featured a smattering of public input.

Since then, she said, the panel has met only to discuss cases at the request of the citizens bringing complaints, not to review cases (such as King's) brought to it by Jones herself. It is a small, yet distinct, difference, she says, designed to maintain the privacy of certain records, most notably Internal Affairs files and the names of both complainants and any aggrieved officers. But just to be sure, Jones is seeking clarification of the meeting provisions from city legal staff.

Meanwhile, Jones, Sheffield, and del Llano all appear to agree on one thing -- that the oversight provisions in the current "meet and confer" contract need to be revised when the pact, which expires in September, is renegotiated. "Obviously there are some things in that contract that need, very much, to be clarified," said Sheffield, "to give a clear indication of what people should be doing."

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