Work on the San Jose Charter Review Commission turned frustrating for three commissioners who question if their voices are being heard.
The latest round of recommendations pertaining to climate change and police reform has become contentious, as a subcommittee composed of Commissioner Magnolia Segol and fellow progressively-aligned Commissioners Veronica Amador and Maria Fuentes run into roadblocks working with the 23-member group.
“We’ve all donated 11 months of our lives,” Segol told San José Spotlight. “Procedural obstacles are constantly thrown at us. There are continual attempts to block a climate change commission from forming and to block us from making a recommendation for a police commission like Oakland, San Francisco and Los Angeles all have. Stronger police oversight is something that the public demanded during the George Floyd protests and is demanding now.”
The latest snag? A Nov. 1 vote pertaining to the city’s Board of Fair Campaign and Political Practices that was a last minute addition to the agenda. A yes vote would have given the BFCPP a clearer mandate to investigate and define racial disenfranchisement. Instead, Segol and other commissioners wanted the city’s Office of Racial Equity to look into the item. The vote failed 14 to 5.
Segol’s allies claim the last-minute agenda item was designed to allocate time and feedback away from discussion about police oversight and climate change. The city and other commissioners maintain the vote was a result of a previous discussion on the BFCPP.
Throwing last-minute items onto the agenda limits the commission’s ability for meaningful and deep discussion, Amador told San José Spotlight.
“This work wasn’t just us commissioners alone. We reached out to many community members,” she said.
This isn’t the first time the commission has run into trouble over adopting policy direction. In September, City Manager Jennifer Maguire advised leaving policing issues to the city’s Reimagining Public Safety Community Advisory Committee, a 46-member body of leaders from different nonprofit and activist groups whose primary mission is to deal with police reform and oversight. Maguire issued her opinion in a letter addressed to the commission, which cautioned its members against doing redundant work alongside the Reimagining committee.
Segol, who leads a subcommittee on accountability, inclusion, policing and municipal law, previously told San José Spotlight the letter was a “shock.” She claims Maguire did not consult her or the committee before sending the letter.
The Charter Review Commission formed in July 2020 after outrage over a proposed “strong mayor” initiative led by Mayor Sam Liccardo. The initiative would have given the mayor more executive power, including hiring and firing department heads without consulting the city manager. The commission has since issued several recommendations, including shifting the mayoral election to presidential election years and giving the mayor and City Council joint power in appointing a city manager.
Late last month, a memo co-authored by Vice Mayor Chappie Jones and Councilmember Sergio Jimenez urged the commission to stay focused on its original goals—deciding whether the mayoral election should align with the presidential election and if the mayor should be granted more executive power—and not stray into other topics.
Like the city manager’s comments, the two councilmembers faced criticism from pro-police reform activists and residents. The memo died in a city committee.
“We do our best and put a lot of time and hours in putting together recommendations,” Fuentes told San José Spotlight. “It should have been a much more democratic process overall.”
The scope of the Charter Review Commission has expanded in the last few months, as evidenced by the number of presentations it’s received—everything from police oversight to climate change. Some commissioners argue the commission is within its mandate to propose other recommendations that can improve the city charter.
As the date to adopt the commission’s recommendations nears, Segol, Amador and Fuentes hope their proposals will be heard too.
“It’s just a fraction of the procedural hurdles that have been thrown at the subcommittee on police oversight,” Segol said. “We now worry that our final recommendations to the City Council will be drafted in words that are not our own.”
The Charter Review Commission’s recommendations are scheduled to be taken up by the full City Council on Dec. 14. If approved by the council, voters must approve any recommended changes to the city charter.
The next Charter Review Commission meeting is Nov. 15. To learn more about how you can watch and participate, click here.