Asheville residents Tuesday night got the chance to weigh in on qualities they’d like to see in the next chief of police. But much of the discussion centered on how the public meeting was promoted and who was missing from the conversation.
City Manager Debra Campbell looked out over a mostly empty auditorium at the Doctor Wesley Grant South Side Center. Joining her were three consultants representing the Police Executive Research Forum, or PERF, which is helping conduct the national search to fill the position.
“Our goal is to get the best candidate to the city manager,” Chuck Wexler, executive director of PERF said. “It’s the most important position a city manager can appoint.”
The final hiring decision is up to Campbell, who has only been city manager for a few months. She hopes to have a selection made by late spring. To start that process -- a handful of attendees offered their ideas on what qualities the next police chief should have. Community policing, a proven record of reducing crime, and using force as a last resort were recurring themes. But once the microphone got to Luis Serapio, a local blogger, the conversation took a turn. He stood up to address Campbell and the consultants.
“I hear you saying your goal is to provide us with a police chief by late spring, but I also see the place is almost empty, and there are very few people who look like me and have an accent like me,” Serapio said, gesturing toward a row of vacant seats.
Serapio says he doesn’t think the city made enough effort to notify the Latinx community about the public meeting. “It’s true that a lot of the Latino population in this town is undocumented. But even those there are not, this was a poor attempt to reach out. Look at the place,” Serapio said. He says he plans on notifying his followers on social media about the next public meeting.
The organization Cenzontle Language Justice Cooperative even brought free translation services and headsets to assist Spanish speakers. But none of the devices were used. Another attendee says the timing, 6:00pm, conflicts with the bus schedule and is therefore prohibitive for those who rely on public transit.
The City’s communications director Dawa Hitch told those gathered signs were posted in businesses and community centers across town, and a public feedback survey is available on the city’s website. Campbell says the time was selected based on the availability of the consultants and city staff.
“If someone tells us how to do it differently, or in addition to, we are willing to do that,” Campbell said.
The second of the two scheduled meetings is Wed. evening at 6pm at the Stephens-Lee Recreation Center.