Painesville of­fi­cial re­sponds to law­suit

Com­mu­nity task force ac­cused of vi­o­lat­ing Sun­shine Laws

The News Herald (Willoughby, OH) - - Front Page - By Tracey Read tread@news-her­ald.com @traceyre­port­ing on Twit­ter

Painesville City Man­ager Mon­ica Ire­lan said she is “very dis­ap­pointed” to learn a law­suit has been filed over a new im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy com­mu­nity task force.

Kirt­land res­i­dent Arzella Mel­nyk and James We­ber of Painesville filed a com­plaint Aug. 29 in Lake County Com­mon Pleas Court ac­cus­ing Ire­lan and City Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Paul Hach of il­le­gally clos­ing task force meet­ings to the pub­lic.

Ire­lan an­nounced at coun­cil’s reg­u­lar June 19 meet­ing that a group had been formed to re­view the re­cently en­acted Painesville Po­lice Pol­icy 413.

Lake County Jail of­fi­cials used to re­port sus­pects of be­ing un­doc­u­mented to U.S. Im­mi­gra­tions and Cus­toms En­force­ment, but then del­e­gated that re­spon­si­bil­ity to in­di­vid­ual po­lice de­part­ments.

Painesville po­lice then created a pol­icy that de­tails guide­lines for of­fi­cers af­ter they ar­rest sus­pects for vi­o­lent crimes, drug of­fenses or gang ac­tiv­ity.

Af­ter the de­part­ment’s new pol­icy was pub­licly crit­i­cized as be­ing in­sen­si­tive and hos­tile, a task

force was created that in­cluded res­i­dents, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the city and po­lice of­fi­cers, plus re­li­gious, im­mi­gra­tion and Latino or­ga­ni­za­tion lead­ers.

“While I can­not com­ment on any specifics in the law­suit and I need to be sen­si­tive to the fact that this is a le­gal mat­ter, I want to re­it­er­ate the mis­sion of the task force, and let you know that its rec­om­men­da­tions will be an­nounced on Sept. 11,” Ire­lan said in a state­ment emailed to The News-Her­ald Aug. 30. “The pol­icy was created so that all of our of­fi­cers work from the same guide­lines af­ter they ar­rest sus­pects for vi­o­lent crimes, drug of­fenses or gang ac­tiv­ity. The for­ma­tion of the task force, its goals and mem­bers have been com­mu­ni­cated openly and trans­par­ently. There have been nu­mer­ous news re­ports about the task force, and I re­cently wrote about it in an An­other View­point col­umn pub­lished in The News-Her­ald.

“When ques­tions and

con­cerns in the com­mu­nity arose about that pol­icy, I an­nounced the task force as an ad­vi­sory board, in­vited peo­ple to par­tic­i­pate and was pleased to have a di­verse group of com­mu­nity lead­ers step up and join, in­clud­ing an im­mi­gra­tion lawyer, a leader of a Latino ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tion, a re­li­gious leader and oth­ers.

“I em­pha­sized that our in­tent al­ways was to so­licit com­mu­nity in­put and re­port back to the com­mu­nity on the task force’s find­ings and any rec­om­men­da­tions. It is true that the task force’s first sev­eral meet­ings were closed. Task force mem­bers wanted to feel com­fort­able say­ing ex­actly what was on their minds, with­out fear of re­tal­i­a­tion. We had open and some­times heated de­bates that would sim­ply not have oc­curred in front of an au­di­ence. The task force compiled a list of rec­om­men­da­tions for City Coun­cil and me.”

Those rec­om­men­da­tions will be shared at 5 p.m. Sept. 11 in Court Room No. 1 at a work ses­sion of coun­cil, she added.

“As with all of our pub­lic meet­ings, the City Clerk

will post this meet­ing is com­pli­ance with the Ohio Sun­shine Laws,” Ire­lan said. “I want to work to­gether through th­ese im­por­tant and sen­si­tive is­sues around im­mi­gra­tion. I also want to em­pha­size an im­por­tant point that I’ve made be­fore: It’s not the city’s job to en­force fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion law. Our new re­spon­si­bil­ity to fed­eral of­fi­cials is to share in­for­ma­tion about vi­o­lent criminals or drug of­fend­ers who our of­fi­cers iden­tify as po­ten­tially un­doc­u­mented. I must do this in keep­ing with lo­cal and fed­eral laws as I pro­tect our res­i­dents from vi­o­lent criminals. Our in­tent al­ways was to re­fine Po­lice Pol­icy 413 so it is clear, and so it is fair. Our com­mu­nity task force did its job. “

Ac­cord­ing to the law­suit, the task force held two meet­ings in June and July that vi­o­lated Ohio Sun­shine Laws.

Mel­nyk and We­ber are ask­ing Judge John P. O’Don­nell for an in­junc­tion to stop the task force from con­tin­u­ing to meet “in se­cret.” The plain­tiffs are also seek­ing un­spec­i­fied mon­e­tary dam­ages plus at­tor­ney fees and ex­penses.

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