Detroit Free Press
At least three Detroit police commissioners have recently filed or plan to file complaints with several government offices against Board of Police Commissioners Chairman Willie Bell for reasons that include abuse of power, neglect of duty and violation of parliamentary procedure.
The three commissioners — Willie Burton, William Davis and Darryl Brown — are seeking to have Bell removed as chair. They say Bell shuts down commissioners when he disagrees with their views and signs documents behind their backs, violating board rules.
Bell says his colleagues don’t fully comprehend board rules and that he is fulfilling his role as chair.
The situation came to a head at the board’s most recent meeting last Thursday, when Burton repeatedly tried to propose a motion calling for Bell’s resignation “for the abuse of chairmanship.”
Bell ignored Burton’s motion, while Commissioner Martin Jones called it “out of order.”
Robert’s Rules of Order states, “When a motion has been made and seconded, it is the duty of the chair, unless he rules it out of order, immediately to state the question — that is, state the exact question that is before the assembly for its consideration and action.”
Burton said Monday he is filing a complaint against Bell with the Detroit Office of Inspector General this week.
“Bell has cut off commissioners, not allowing them to get their full 2 minutes of allocated speaking time. He has silenced my motions, even if they’ve been seconded, totally disrespecting me and disenfranchising the 100,000 people in District 5,” Burton said.
Bell told the Free Press Wednesday that the complaints against him have no merit.
“I’ve been conducting meetings for over 50 years. I’ve been elected as chair of the (police commissioners) on four different occasions,” Bell said. “There’s a process for motions in terms of meeting Robert’s Rules of Order criteria, and they do not understand how the process works. We have tried to educate them on how the process works.”
The Detroit Board of Police Commissioners is the Police Department’s civilian oversight body. It has the ability to establish policies, rules and regulations in consultation with the chief of police and with the approval of the mayor, according to the Detroit City Charter.
The board is composed of 11 civilian members. Detroiters elect seven members by district, and the mayor appoints and the City Council confirms four at-large members. Commissioners serve as unpaid volunteers.
The chair is elected among the 11 board members. The City Charter states that chairs can serve for one year, however, they can serve multiple terms, just not consecutively.
Bell joined the Detroit Police Department in 1971, retired in 2003, and was elected to the board in 2013 and reelected in 2017. He has served as chair for four years (none consecutively) between 2014 and 2020, he said.
Jones said Bell runs the meetings smoothly. Jones takes issue with the kinds of motions some commissioners propose, he said.
For example, the City of Detroit Law Department has stated that the board does not have the authority to stop facial recognition or Project Green Light, a point of contention among board members, Jones said.
“Yet continuously, knowing this, over the past few months some commissioners bring about a motion against those programs and the chair deems them inappropriate. They should know better,” Jones said. “They want to use Robert’s Rules of Order … but they are not paying attention to the bylaws or the rules. They only utilize the parts that they believe in but they want to forget the rest.”
“The Board as a whole, and individually Willie Bell as the former Chair, have neglected their Charter mandated responsibilities,” the OIG report said.
Brown had previously filed a complaint with the Michigan Attorney General’s Office regarding Bell’s abuse of power and neglect of duty, he said. He is filing a complaint with the Board of Ethics in the near future but cannot share the nature of the complaint, he said.
“Bell is in a position where he feels that this is his board — that no one else matters,” Brown said. “He’s doing things without permission of the board. He’s signing documents on behalf of the board without bringing it to the board, when our bylaws clearly state that he is supposed to sign all documents before the board. There’s a lot of things going on behind the scenes that we don’t know about, that we find out about later on.”
Davis told the Free Press he seconded the motion to have Bell removed “because he is corrupt.”
He submitted a complaint to the Office of Inspector General about a month ago regarding Bell’s conduct at meetings.
“There have been a number of times when proper motions were made and properly seconded and he disregards it, and you’re not supposed to do that … per Robert’s Rules of Order,” Davis said. “It’s an ongoing problem, how he conducts meetings, and he’s very rude to citizens and especially rude to Commissioner Burton.”
Bell says that Burton consistently speaks out of order and proposes preposterous motions, such as calling for Detroit Police Chief James Craig’s resignation.
“I can’t think of one thing he has brought to the table that is meaningful to the citizens and to his district,” Bell said. “In so many instances (during votes) he’s said, ‘I haven’t read it, I’m not prepared.’ It goes to show his mentality.”
Brown said Bell stays in power by manipulating new BOPC members and getting mayoral appointees on his side.
“The chairmanship has been rotating between two to three individuals for years,” Brown said. “This causes the board to remain stagnant. It’s not growing, it’s not moving and it’s not doing the things it needs to do.”
Jones, who is a mayoral appointee, said that some commissioners may see him as a rubber stamp commissioner because he is a mayoral appointee but “nothing can be farther from the truth.”
“They just see me as a supporter of Willie Bell. They don’t seem to think I have a voice,” Jones said. “I speak my own mind, I speak for myself. I make the decisions that I make based on the information that I’ve been given.”
Bell said to be the leader of any elected body you must receive people’s support.
“You don’t become chair without getting the support of the body,” he said.
Brown said the bylaws need to change so that the chair can only be chair for one election cycle. If that was the case, the BOPC would be a more effective body, he said.
“It’s really a mess what we have going on. It’s really a mess that we have to go through this, to tell you the truth,” Brown said. “(Bell) has got to go.”
Jones said that, at the end of the day, he wants to see a unified board.
“I think we’ve got enough intelligence and experience to provide groundbreaking oversight,” he said.
©2020 the Detroit Free Press
Visit the Detroit Free Press at www.freep.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.