Section: News

Protestors confront Mount Vernon City Council

On Sept. 14, the Mount Vernon City Council convened for its twice-monthly meeting over Zoom to discuss a new hazard mitigation plan and proposals for a new human resources director. During the meeting’s opportunity for public comment, a couple of residents criticized the Council for not being receptive to calls for police reform.

The first formal topic of discussion by the Council regarded a new hazard mitigation plan proposed by Emergency Management Director Mark Maxwell. A hazard mitigation plan, which is required in order to apply for FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, analyzes the greatest risks to a locality and possible ways to mitigate them. The previous plan’s certification for Mount Vernon expired in May of this year, and the Council aims to approve a new plan by the end of the month.

The Council then moved to consider Ordinance No. 2020-31, proposed by Councilmember Samantha Scoles, which would establish a human resources director for the city of Mount Vernon. Currently, human resource duties are split among different members of the Mount Vernon government. While Mayor Matthew Star indicated his support for creation of the role, he expressed that his first staffing priority would be the hiring of an assistant law director for the city to better meet the legal counseling needs of the City Engineering Department. 

Next, the Council discussed the possibility of rezoning a portion of the city on 1350 Yauger Road. When the property was initially incorporated into the city, it was improperly zoned, and the rezoning ordinance No. 2020-30 hopes to fix that mistake.

When the meeting opened for public comment, two citizens of Mount Vernon spoke in opposition to the police brutality that had ignited mass protests over the summer after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd in late May. They went on to criticize the Council for its inaction and failure to respond properly to concerns regarding the Mount Vernon Police Department. Like many across the country, the Department’s policies regarding use of force have been under scrutiny since the Black Lives Matter movement gained greater support nationwide.

The Councilmembers defended themselves after the residents’ testimony. Several members complained that much of the communication from activists consisted of formulaic emails that weren’t specific to police in Mount Vernon. At one particularly fraught moment, Councilmember John Francis offered a strong defense of police, praising them for getting rid of the “dope dealers… and pushers” in his neighborhood. He then offered his private cell phone number to the activists, saying if they had a problem with police behavior, they should call him personally.

Councilmember Tanner Salyers criticized the Council’s inaction on police reform.

“We had 700 people march in the street, demonstrate in the street after George Floyd’s death, calling for police reform or at least government accountability,” Salyers told the Collegian.  “Mount Vernon City Council has sat there, stared it in the face and blinked aimlessly until it hopefully goes away.” 

 

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