Council divided on Human Relations appointment

Jul. 28, 2014 @ 04:33 PM

City Council members are split on whether they should reappoint to Durham’s Human Relations Commission one of the people who dissented from a panel report critical of the Durham Police Department.

The 3-2 vote on Thursday saw Mayor Bill Bell join Councilmen Eugene Brown and Eddie Davis in wanting to give panel member Misty Odell a second term.

Councilwoman Diane Catotti and Councilman Steve Schewel wanted to give Odell’s current seat to another applicant, Self-Help credit union lawyer Diane Standaert.

Standaert is also the legal redress chair of the Durham branch of the NAACP, one of the groups that’s accused the Police Department of racial profiling.

Because Councilwoman Cora Cole-McFadden and Councilmen Don Moffitt were absent from Thursday’s work session, Odell fell short of receiving the absolute majority normally needed for an appointment.

City Clerk Ann Gray said the council will revisit the matter on the “general business agenda” for its Aug. 4 meeting. A second vote then, presumably with all seven members in attendance, would enable one side or the other to assemble a majority.

The odds would seem to favor the reappointment of Odell, a field director with the political group Americans for Prosperity, who also is a chemist and once owned a pharmacy. 

Cole-McFadden normally votes the way Bell does, though that’s been less true of late than it’s been during most of her 13-year council tenure. Moffitt is the council’s liaison to the Human Relations Commission.

Most advisory board members in Durham are eligible to serve consecutive terms, appointment to the second being routine in most cases given a good meeting-attendance record.

Odell attended all of the Human Relations Commission’s meetings from November on, according to a report Gray gave the council.

But the council does on occasion deny reappointments to advisory boards, most often when a member seems significantly out of step with the majority’s views on major policy issues.

The most prominent recent example was the 2012 decision, taken on a 4-3 vote, to sack Measurement Inc. executive Kaaren Johanson from Durham’ Homeless Services Advisory Committee.

Johanson had emerged as an opponent of a joint decision by the council and the County Commissioners to reorganize local anti-homelessness efforts.

Elected officials assigned the job of overseeing major grant programs on the anti-homelessness front to the city’s Community Development Department, instead of to a local nonprofit as Johanson preferred.

On the Human Relations Commission, Odell was one of three members who submitted a “minority report” on police affairs that dissented most prominently from the panel’s finding that there is racial bias and profiling in the Police Department’s practices.

The report noted the disputed finding was a late addition to the panel’s majority report. Until their last meeting on the subject, commission members had agreed to say they lacked the collective expertise to weigh the competing statistical arguments of the Police Department and its critics.