Morgantown officials: Public comment mostly in favor of citizen police review board

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The Morgantown Special Committee on Community Policing and Citizen Review Board reported the majority of public comment on the proposed oversight ordinance is in favor. The ordinance would establish a citizens review board that could investigate citizen complaints.

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has issued an written a letter to council expressing concern over the effort. The letter stated in party,” It remains the opinion of the Office of the Attorney General that the Morgantown City Council does not have the legal authority to enact any municipal ordinance purporting to conduct investigations or hearings in connection with complaints relating to members of the Morgantown Police Department.”

Deputy mayor Rachel Fetty directly called into question a statement from the attorney general that said,” The use of complete and exclusive system language set forth in the code would prohibit the creation of any board”

“They don’t seem to be offering an alternative, Fetty said,” And they don’t seem to be offering an explanation for why it’s constitutional to offer no mechanism for folks to file a complaint.”

Morrisey told leaders state law dictates complaints are to be heard by the existing Civil Service Commission.

As for public comment, Fetty referenced editorials, phone calls and emails all mostly in favor of the ordinance and the review board. Some of the correspondence said the new board would be less imposing for citizens to interact with.

“I’ll bring the Dominion Post editorial to our next meeting, or if someone else has it they could forward it to me I would appreciate that,” Fetty said,” But, I do believe that’s a pretty accurate summary of the public comment we’ve gotten.”

The group has met weekly since July of 2020 and Mayor Ron Dulaney believes it has been thorough process. He told committee members they need to provide a completely vetted ordinance that will allow council members to make the best decision when it is forwarded to them for a vote.

“In that moment, that’s when the legal arguments and the legal risk will become elevated in terms of consideration,” Dulaney said.

President of the Morgantown/Kingwood Branch of the NAACP, Jerry Carr has worked with the committee to draft and provide input to the proposed ordinance. Carr believes the opinion from the attorney general provides legal lanes to proceed.

“I think there’s a lot of room to question things and I’m looking forward to see how it all plays out to be honest with you,” Carr said,” All I want to do is make sure we continue to work with the city to draft the best ordinance we possibly can taking all the comments to move this thing forward.”

Deputy mayor Rachel Fetty believes there is a clear difference between the rights of citizens and their efforts to preserve them in relation to employment rights of peace officers.

“It’s critically important that we not confuse employment rights with basic civilian human rights,” Fetty said.

The board meets net on April 19.