Rohnert Park City Council met at city hall on Tuesday August 10. The main topic was a discussion and recommendations for increased Law Enforcement Accountability and improved Police/Community Relations. This was one of ten strategic priorities for 2021 adopted on January 26 this year. Nine recommendations were presented to the council by City Manager Darrin Jenkins and Director of Public Safety Tim Mattos.
An extensive 43-page staff report provided additional background and support for these recommendations. That report said, “If the council ultimately enacts the recommended measures, the City of Rohnert Park will have the most comprehensive system of police accountability and community relations in Sonoma County.” The council unanimously adopted all nine recommendations.
In his comments, Mayor Gerard Giudice said, “this is a big task, a big priority,” and I just want to say, “I’m proud of all of you” to his fellow councilmembers and the city staff. He added, “shows we are willing to roll up our sleeves, do the hard work, take the deep dive.”
Two recommendations had the most questions and comments. They were “Retain an Independent Police Auditor to review public safety investigations into civilian complaints;” and “Create a community roundtable to obtain feedback from a diverse group of stakeholders representing underrepresented minority people groups.” Another recommendation had already been approved and is moving forward which was “Implement an alternative response model—using CAHOOTS as a basis—to provide enhanced crisis intervention, mental health and homeless assistance services.” Others are either a continuation of existing efforts, or expansion of them.
For example, “Continue to expand trainings regarding explicit and implicit bias, sensitivity, de-escalation, LGBTQ+ and racial profiling. Invite non-public-safety staff and City Councilmembers to partake in trainings when appropriate.”
Jenkins stressed these were a starting point. What they ultimately look like will be dependent on feedback obtained from citizens of Rohnert Park. This was encapsulated in the recommendation to “Engage the community stakeholders regarding the council’s direction for enhanced public safety accountability and community relations measures.” But having adopted the recommendations, the staff can start moving forward. City Attorney Michelle Marchetta Kenyon said she would start working on the Independent Police Auditor tomorrow morning. Jenkins will start the community engagement process.
Vice Mayor Jackie Elward said, “the Chief is ready to go” referring to the community roundtable, but “we also have to get the community ready to go.” Council member Willy Linares especially liked the idea of setting aside an “intentional space” to engage with community leaders in discussing the roundtable concept. Council member Pam Stafford said to staff “it was a wonderful report” as did Council member Susan Hollingsworth Adams who said it was a “fantastic job of putting together bits and pieces” of council members thoughts and ideas “into a comprehensive report.”
The other big topic was regarding Sonoma County’s Community Child Care Council (4Cs) and the Gold Ridge Preschool Long Term Lease on city property. This state subsidized Preschool/Child Care program has been operating at a site at the former Gold Ridge Elementary School. But the site is either in need of major repairs for them to continue using it, or else another location will need to be found.
Director of Public Works Vanessa Garrett and Director of Community Services Cindy Bagley gave the staff report. In addition to possible repairs at Gold Ridge, relocating to the Burton Avenue Community Center was an option discussed. The council wasn’t in favor of either option. Instead, they wanted to explore with the Cotati Rohnert Park Unified School District possible space for relocation. Another option was to find a suitable space within Rohnert Park or Cotati to keep this valuable resource within our community.
In other council news, the mayor recognized Iglesia Cristiana Shalom Elohim (SE) Church for their community involvement which included the Backpack Giveaway Event on July 24, 2021. Held annually, this year 1,600 folks and over 100 volunteers gathered at the community center. They distributed over 450 backpacks as well as 75 boxes of groceries. Pastor Edwin Guzman said, “we are better together” and thanked the council for “helping us, help others.”
Housing Administrator Jenna Garcia also introduced Emily Quig to the council. Quig has joined the city as the Homeless Services Coordinator to help the city meet the council’s strategic goal of “Services for unhoused people.” She was the Housing Navigator at Sonoma County’s Community Development Commission. Previously she was with the Committee on the Shelterless (C.O.T.S.) for seven years working on homeless issues.
Finally of note, former Vice Mayor Jake Mackenzie addressed the council during public comments. He was there specifically to highlight the Sonoma County Grand Jury report on Rohnert Park District Elections. It was an item on the consent calendar. Mackenzie felt it was important to publicly point out the Grand Jury’s conclusions for the record. He said, “The Grand Jury concluded that last year’s city council, of which I was a member, acted fully in compliance with California law in transition to district-based elections.”