Bexley City Council: Questions raised about citizen review board

Chris Bournea
ThisWeek
Bexley City Hall

Questions arose Feb. 23 during the Bexley City Council's second reading of the resolution to add new members to the Citizen Review Advisory Board.  

The discussion focused on the process for selecting members and the length of terms on the board, which was created last June with an executive order from Mayor Ben Kessler. The board is charged with reviewing complaints pertaining to unlawful discrimination or bias directed by city employees, including police officers, that are under appeal to the mayor. 

On Oct. 13, 2020, council unanimously approved an ordinance to codify the board and expands its membership from three to five. If council approves Resolution 01-21, proposed new members Tiffany Hunt and Glenn Soden will join Bryan Drewry, Becky Guzman and Lee Nathans, who were appointed by Kessler last June.  

Jen Robinson, chair of council’s Safety and Health Committee and who introduced the resolution, said she, Kessler and community member Manika Williams spent several weeks interviewing potential candidates for the board, including Drewry, Guzman and Nathans.  

At the second reading, Stanwood Road resident Marc Abramson said he asked Kessler and City Council President Lori Ann Feibel about how to apply to become a member when the board was first formed last June. Abramson said he was told at that time that there were no openings. 

Abramson said he again inquired about how to become a member when the board was expanded. He said he was told there was no formal application process. 

Abramson said he received an email from the city in early February stating he hadn’t been selected for one of the two new seats, even though he had not been contacted for an interview or a request for references. 

Abramson said those selected for the board do not meet the city’s stated criteria of bringing a diversity of professional and life depth of experience.

Abramson said four of the five current and proposed members are registered Democrats, and one is unaffiliated. The Franklin County Board of Elections confirmed that Drewry, Guzman, Nathans and Soden are registered Democrats; Hunt is unaffiliated. 

“I respectfully request that City Council not approve the two proposed individuals to the board, not based on their individual merits, but because they do not ensure for a balance across the board, nor do they ensure a diversity of perspectives and backgrounds, per the stated selection criteria presented to me,” Abramson said. 

Kessler said he respects Abramson and the issues he raised, but the process that he, Robinson and Williams undertook was objective.  

“I don’t look up political registrations, nor did I in this case, or will I,” Kessler said. “This is a nonpartisan thought process. … I still feel very strongly that this is the best board for the city and that this is the right board, given those who put their names forward.” 

Council member Jessica Saad suggested that terms should be staggered so that all terms don’t expire simultaneously.  

“Maybe we take our original selection of our first three (members) and go ahead and set their term first, and the other two members would be the next (term),” Saad said.  

City Attorney March Fishel said the best option is for council to approve the terms of all five members to expire June 30, 2023, and then council can adjust the terms later. He also said council can consider recommendations from the city’s charter review commission.  

“The idea is to have this new board up and running July 1… and then it leaves options later on,” Fishel said. “Plus, there’s some charter review changes that might address it as well.” 

Council’s third and final reading the resolution and a vote is tentatively scheduled for March 23. 

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