Police working group meets behind closed doors
The working group voted for confidentiality over transparency, agreeing to release summaries of the group’s meetings but otherwise close them to the public.
A working group established by the Laramie City Council to examine police-community relations is meeting behind closed doors.
The Ad-Hoc Working Group for Police and Community has met twice since being established in May. During the second meeting, in late July, the group took a vote to determine how confidential its meetings would be.
The group’s members voted against complete transparency, and instead overwhelmingly supported an alternative: releasing summaries that convey general information without attributing statements to individuals.
The working group is tasked with eventually providing recommendations to the council. Those recommendations could include the creation of a civilian oversight board or other measures aimed at greater transparency, accountability or communication on the part of the Laramie Police Department.
The working group could host public forums in the coming months, but will otherwise close its meetings to the public.
Summaries of the first two meetings are not yet available, but City Manager Janine Jordan says in an email that a record of the most recent meeting will soon be published to the city’s website.
“The City Council took care to engage a professional facilitator to shepherd the working group's efforts,” Jordan writes. “The working group discussed and agreed to maintain a record of their meetings; the facilitators are preparing that record and it will be published on the city's website upon completion.”
Mayor Paul Weaver defended the group’s decision against full transparency.
“The working group needs some autonomy for how it’s going to operate,” he said. “We wanted to create an environment where they could decide how they wanted those meetings to be conducted.”
Weaver said confidentiality will allow for more frank discussion surrounding the fraught topic of police-community relations and conversations about civilian oversight. He added the public will still get to have their say before anything is put into law.
“Ultimately, recommendations made by the working group will be considered in city council meetings — which will be fully open to the public,” Weaver said. “And the public will be able to provide input and information and their own views on any of the proposals that come out of the committee’s work. In that sense, I think there’s still going to be a very substantial, completely public process.”
Indeed, the working group serves in a strictly advisory capacity to the city council. Like the Laramie Planning Commission and other boards created by the council, the working group does not have the ability to pass ordinances or change city code.
Rather, these groups are set up by the council to dig into given issues at a more granular level and report back to the full council with recommendations. The council — which cannot meet in secret except for during executive sessions — then has the ability to approve or reject those recommendations, or even to send the working group back to the drawing board.
But that’s cold comfort for those who have been closely following the issue for more than a year and now find themselves cut off from the discussion.
Illyanna Saucedo is a member of the Laramie Human Rights Network, an informal group that organized demonstrations during the summer of 2020. Those demonstrations convinced the council to take up the issue of police oversight.
Saucedo understands the limited role of an advisory board.
“I don’t think it changes the fact that we can’t really see the inner workings of the meeting,” they said. “While I see what the mayor is saying — that nothing is set in stone and nothing will be passed without people’s contribution. I’m still concerned what ideas will even be brought to the council because of the lack of transparency and accountability from the beginning.”
Confidentiality can protect marginalized voices that otherwise might not be heard in these discussions, Saucedo said. But it can also serve to shield elected officials and sworn officers from the public scrutiny Saucedo said they ought to face.
The working group’s next meeting is scheduled for mid-August.