The words City Council adopted on May 22 could land the five members who supported them in hot water, according to lawyers from the N.C. Police Benevolent Association. Language in the city’s charter suggests that the consequences could be serious, possibly even including loss of office if convicted of giving an order to a city employee other than the city manager.
The words in question came from Council member Keith Young as part of three motions he introduced at Council’s most recent meeting. Following presentations by Ian A. Mance, staff attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, and Chief Tammy Hooper of the Asheville Police Department, on racial disparities in traffic stops, Young proposed language directing Interim City Manager Cathy Ball to implement new APD policies for consent searches and regulatory stops.
In a letter to Mayor Esther Manheimer and City Council dated May 25, NCPBA Executive Director John C. Midgette claimed that Young’s motions were illegal. “Councilmember Young’s directives in an open Council meeting to the Asheville city manager and police chief may also have violated policy, procedure and law,” he wrote.
Brandon McGaha, staff representative for the NCPBA, clarified the exact concern of his group’s legal team. “You can order the city manager to address this problem, but you can’t order the city manager to give an employee a direct order,” he said. “That’s illegal, and that’s against their charter.”
Under this interpretation, Young’s motions would be in violation of Section 23 of Asheville’s city charter. The relevant language reads as follows: “[N]either the Council nor any member thereof shall give an order to any city employee in the administrative service of the city, other than the city manager, relating to any matter in the line of his employment.”
Regarding the consequences of such action, the charter continues, “Any violations of the provisions of this section by a member of the Council shall be a misdemeanor, conviction of which shall immediately forfeit the office of the member so convicted.” Young, along with Manheimer and Council members Brian Haynes, Sheneika Smith and Julie Mayfield, voted for each of the motions.
“If they don’t reverse their actions, we’re going to do what we have to legally and any other method to take care of that,” McGaha said. He declined to give a direct answer as to whether the NCPBA would consider legal action even if Council rescinded the motions.
Young did not respond to requests for comment by phone and email, while Manheimer disputed the police group’s reading of the motions. The mayor said that their intent was directed at Ball, who would have to figure out “how to cross the finish line” of actually making changes. “I think [Young] understands too that we have to tell the city manager, that we can’t tell the Police Department,” she explained.
“She’s going to have to work with the Police Department so that it’s a policy adopted by them and used internally,” Manheimer said. “In other words, she can’t just implement policy. She can write it down, she can put it in place, but it’s not actually going to work unless the Police Department [works with her].”
However, the charter also contains language suggesting that Ball may have the power to unilaterally decide police approaches. In Section 27, the document reads, “The manager… may himself assume and perform the powers and duties of director of one or more departments or offices and/or perform himself or delegate another any one or more functions or duties assigned to a department or office.”
A representative for the APD could not immediately be reached for comment.
Council member Vijay Kapoor, who voted against all three of the motions and sharply criticized their passage at the end of the meeting, said he’s planning to introduce resolutions at Council’s next meeting on Tuesday, June 19, to revoke the action and call for a public discussion of the process. “What we did on Tuesday was essentially improper,” he added.
“[The motions] definitely hit on the gray areas of the dynamic of a council that’s only allowed to operate on a policy level,” Manheimer said. “Operationally, there’s room for interpretation for how that should work.”