This has been quite the month to be a new Alder! I would like to extend an sincere thank you to the individuals who have reached out to email the council on a variety of issues. Most of the recent emails have been regarding the June 2 incident, pool opening/closing, and safety issues on Winnequah Road due to the high volume of bikes and cars. I love hearing from constituents and it's great to see you being a part of the process of our local government. Thank you!
The photo to the right is from Monona's first Pride Ride! I hosted the ride on Sunday, June 14. We had about 70-75 bikers and walkers join in. This shot is of some of the bikers as we finished up. Shout out to all of you who joined in and brought your beautiful attitudes of optimism, pride, hope, and acceptance!
I held the Pride Ride to celebrate June as Pride Month and to help bring a sense of community, inclusiveness, diversity, and acceptance of all people in our community. Merriam Webster's provides this as one of the definitions of community: an interacting population of various kinds of individuals in a common location. We are a stronger community when we are diverse. Think of a cornfield. It is not a diverse environment and one pest can wipe out the entire crop. Any living population faces this conundrum. We are weaker as a population when we are less diverse. Let's embrace our differences and appreciate the variety of perspectives it brings. This is the Conservation Biologist in me talking! ;)
The majority of emails the Council received were regarding the June 2 police incident with Keonte Furdge. We probably received somewhere between 60-100 concerned emails. I have lost count. Council is not permitted to discuss the incident since it will soon be under investigation. After reading the many emails from residents, I felt the urgent need to host a virtual town hall for people to process their emotions, have a safe space to ask questions, and learn what it's like to be Black in America today. Race Matters was a virtual town hall featuring three Black leaders in our community. Loreen Gage and Andrew McKinney are both on the Monona Grove School District Board and Reuben Sanon is a Monona resident and the Diversity and Communication Strategist for the City of Sun Prairie. If you have not yet had a chance to watch the town hall, you can view it here on YouTube.
I have thoroughly reviewed our police policies and we have some work to do. Our policies have not been updated much since the Police Chief started here 15 years ago. Chief Ostrenga stated this in an update at the Public Safety meeting on 6/24. He said prior to his arrival, the policies were 25 years old. For instance, there is no mention of mental illness in the policies. It's apparent that our policies need a comprehensive update.
Due to these concerns, I reached out to Legal Action of Wisconsin (LAW), a nonprofit law firm that provides civil legal services throughout Wisconsin. LAW provided an overview of our policies and provided a written report on immediate updates that should be implemented. One of LAW's attorneys is a Monona resident and spoke at the 6/24 Public Safety meeting. A link to the report is above. If you would like to review Monona's current police policies, click here. I did email the Chief about the missing general order (GO) 5.02. You'll see it jumps from 5.01 to 5.03. That is the 'deadly force' GO and he is working on updating it now. At the time this email was written, 5.02 was still not yet available. He just posted the 2019 Annual Report which provides an overview of training throughout the year.
In this week's Herald-Independent, Sunny Schubert published an article about my "jaw-dropping" suggestion to ask our police officers to stop pulling over Black Americans unless there is an authentic threat of harm to other drivers or pedestrians (for minor traffic infringements). My goal was to initiate a conversation on reducing interactions with police and Black Americans. I was bringing forward the ideas published in The New Era of Public Safety report which is summarized in the LAW document above. The report says that "police departments should adopt best practices to protect individual liberty..." This includes: limit the use of pretextual stops; eliminate discriminatory and bias-based stops, searches and arrests; and require detailed reporting of stops, searches, and arrests. There are numerous other best practice suggestions and these can be read on page 6 & 7 of the LAW document. We have an opportunity to lead the way and be a model city in police reform.
At the 6/24 Public Safety Committee meeting, Chief Ostrenga reported that 48% of Monona's arrests are categorized as Black Americans. In the chart below, you'll see that approximate 99 Black individuals live in Monona (1.2%) and Dane County's overall black population is 5.5%. I do have concerns about those statistics and want to ensure that we are abiding by current best practices. Please feel free to email me if you'd like to discuss this further. firstname.lastname@example.org
At the June 15 Council Meeting, I asked if we could create a citizen committee made up of people of color from our community to investigate the incident. My hopes are that they would also be able to provide policy review as a means to support the work of the Public Safety Committee. The Council said an expert would need to do investigation but the public is able to provide input to the Public Safety Committee by making public appearances. I truly believe we should have a subcommittee made of people of color that can provide a different perspective. It would also help rebuild trust in our police department since many feel that has been eroded. You can watch the Council meeting from June 15 at the link below. The conversation begins at 27 minutes into the meeting. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1qKpgpZM3oQ&t=3014s
I'm working with a group of Monona residents of color to advise us on what role they would like to see this committee play. If we create a subcommittee and tell them what we want the committee to be, we're missing an opportunity to truly engage diverse voices. Some of the feedback I've received is that the subcommittee should exist to support the work of the Public Safety Committee and the Fire and Police Commission. The individuals I'm speaking with would like to see: 1) a committee that meets monthly to assist with updating our current police policies and procedures to start, then would meet 'as needed' to support the police department, 2) recommending local resources for mental health, drug addiction, domestic abuse, and the full spectrum of social welfare needs, 3) reviewing and recommendations on use of force techniques, 4) reviewing ordinances with an equity lens, 5) assist with hiring a new Police Chief (ours is retiring later this year), 6) reviewing the police budget with an opportunity for input.
Chief Ostrenga is struggling to find an organization willing to investigate the June 2 incident. This committee could be an excellent resource if/when a future incident takes place. Through its existence, we would have a local group available to do this work and the Chief's time would not be wasted trying to find someone to investigate. This could be an efficient and fair system.
On June 19th, Governor Evers and Lieutenant Governor Barnes put forth a package of police reforms. Having a statewide set of policies will be helpful to us as we begin to review and rewrite Monona's policies. You can read it here.
And, don't forget, we're still in the middle of a pandemic. Dane County's cases have risen dramatically over the past three days. Public Health Dane County & Madison stated, "Given this strong upward trend in recent days, it is unlikely that we will meet the criteria outlined in the Forward Dane plan to move on to Phase 3 at this time." Currently, two metrics are red, indicating that Dane County should not increase business capacity or meeting size limits. Be sure to follow their Facebook page for updates. You can read the press release here.
The World Health Organization has information on wearing masks here. We must reopen the economy. The economy is jobs and livelihoods but we must be sure it's safe to do so. Japan has done an excellent job of keeping infection rates low so I did a bit of research and found this graphic called, "Avoid the Three Cs," published by the Prime Minister's Office of Japan.
I chair the Landmarks Committee and the Community Media Committee. The Landmarks Committee is working on helping residents who reside in historical homes get registered on the National Registry of Historic Homes if they are interested. If you live in an historic home, you will either be getting a phone call or letter from our City Planner, Doug Plowman.
The Landmarks Committee continues to work on trying to get estimates for the restoration of the pagoda at Stone Bridge Park. Stone Bridge Park is slated for redesign in 2020 so it's a good time to restore the pagoda as a part of that project (if it happens). There will be a public hearing on Stone Bridge Park redesign on July 14 at the Parks Board meeting. If you have thoughts or ideas on the park redesign, please be sure to attend and register for a public appearance if you want to voice your opinion.
The Community Media Committee is creating some visual presentations that will be presented to both the School Board and City Council illustrating the value of Monona Community Media to both institutions and the community overall. Those presentations will begin in August.
I also serve on the Plan Commission. You'll notice that work is beginning on the final phase of the Riverfront. This will be 145 market rate apartments with two levels of indoor parking. One level for the public and one level for the apartment residents—a combined total of 284 parking stalls.
The August 11 election will include only one polling place at the Community Center.
Concerts in Winnequah Park are virtual for summer and you can watch on YouTube.
Please note that playgrounds are now open at parks and some bathrooms are also open. Park shelter rentals area available at Ahuska and Fireman's Park. Head to MyMonona.com for complete details.
Every day we are given the opportunity to evolve and grow. For years, I have been repeating the mantra of the police department, "If you see something, say something." The time has come where we need to clarify this statement to, "If you see something suspicious, say something." Our police department is very busy because we've put numerous tasks on their shoulders including being domestic dispute counselors, drug addiction counselors, sexual assault counselors, homeless resource advocates, mental health professionals, in addition to policing the safety of our community. So, if you're thinking of calling the police on someone, ask yourself if the act you're witnessing, truly warrants a police call? Is it really a suspicious activity? Or, might you be able to approach them, say hello, and get to know your neighbor or fellow Mononanite?
Stay safe everyone and I cannot wait to see you in person again someday!