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Broward Commissioners Delay Decision On Creating Police Review Board, Talk County Budget For 2021

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Caitie Switalski
/
WLRN
County commissioners met in the chambers during an update on COVID-19 earlier this summer.

Broward County Mayor Dale Holness wants to create a police and criminal justice review board. Residents giving public comment don't believe it would do enough to address their concerns.

Broward county commissioners were in meetings all day Thursday. Earlier in the afternoon, before their budget hearing for the upcoming 2021 fiscal year, they debated what a police and criminal justice review board would look like for the county.

The current proposal for that review board would create a body that would do data analysis on policing, publish reports and be able to make policy recommendations to the county commission based on any law enforcement trends and patterns it finds.

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People calling into the meeting, several of which identified themselves as members of the Broward Chapter of Democratic Socialists of America, said the commission should be doing much more, and giving the review board more weight.

"What has been proposed is not hardly enough," Carnell Staples, a lead organizer for DSA, said. "For one, we demand that there is a total ban on current or former law enforcement officials eligible for nomination to this board."

"If there's no community organizers or activists or people who are fighting everyday to keep people safe on that board then there's no point," another caller, Kristen Torres, said.

Several commissioners had concerns of their own about Mayor Dale Holness' proposed ordinance, including who would appoint some of the members of the board, and what value the board's scope would really be able to add to the county.

"There is no specificity in terms of what it is that we as a board are looking for from this board," Commissioner Barbara Sharief said. "We're putting together a board to police the police, but we've yet to set a standard for what that is."

Broward County Attorney Andrew Meyers explained that the county has restrictions on what a police review board can legally do under state law.

"We should not be doing anything that would intrude on the field of disciplining officers — that's the primary restriction," he said.

Holness was frustrated that commissioners wanted to delay a vote that could have moved the ordinance forward to a public hearing later this month. Instead, after a confusing few moments — with a series of motions on the table — the commission ultimately voted, 8 - 1, to defer action until Oct. 6, when the county attorney can come back to the table with amendments.

Holness was the one who voted not to defer action.

"I understand clearly that we need to do more, and we'll work to do as much more as we possibly can within the constraints that we have," he said.

The commission's debate about social justice did not end after its discussion about creating a police and criminal review board.

The first of county's two public budget hearings began at 5 p.m.

There were more speakers during public comment asking county leaders to reallocate funding out of the Broward Sheriff's Office budget and into community programs for things like affordable housing and mental health.

"I have an expectation for you all to really take leadership and listen to your constituents after months of us taking action and voicing how we want to see a reallocation of BSO county funds," one caller said.

Members of the county commission responded that Sheriff Gregory Tony makes the budget for BSO, and then county leaders approve that budget. If the sheriff ever felt that the size of his budget wasn't being supported, he could appeal to state lawmakers in Tallahassee.

Earlier in the day, Holness explained the county's position by saying, "We don't design the sheriff's budget for him, he designs his own budget. We don't tell him what he allocates his funds for. That's something that he does as a constitutionally-elected officer of Broward County."

County Administrator Bertha Henry went on to detail what a fuller picture of Broward's budget for next year looks like, given the ongoing impacts of COVID-19 on the economy.

The proposed total budget for 2021 comes in at more than $5.3 billion, which Henry said is more than $400 million less than Broward's current budget (for fiscal year 2020).

"There's a tremendous economic uncertainty ... stressing our social safety net like never before," she said. "That said, the total budget reflects a decrease in the operating budget mostly due to decreases in airport, Port Everglades, transit and the tourist development tax programs."

The second — and final — public hearing before the 2021 budget is adopted is scheduled for Sept. 22.