At last Tuesday's Richmond City Council meeting one of the consent calendar items was the Council approval of the Mayor's appointment of three applicants to the Community Police Review Commission. Led by the Richmond Progressive Alliance--which voted to oppose the appointment of Catherine Montalbo, petitions were circulated, more than a dozen speakers spoke under Public Forum advocating that because her beliefs did not mesh with theirs, she was unqualified to serve.
Mayor Butt chose to pull the item from consideration so he could give the matter further consideration.
Using his popular eforum, Mayor Butt posted the following as a response to Tuesday night's response to his appointment.
One of the Charter-mandated jobs of the mayor is to appoint people to boards and commissions – subject to City Council approval. The Citizens Police Review Commission (CPRC) is allocated nine members by Richmond Municipal Code Chapter 3.54. Currently, there are five members, down from six when Demnlus Johnson was a member. He had to resign when he was elected to the City Council.
Five members constitute a quorum, so the Commission can’t do any business unless all five current members are present. On March 19, 2019, I appointed three persons to the Citizens Police Review Commission, subject to the approval of the City Council. One of them was Catherine Montalbo, a Latina of Mexican heritage who originally hails from Texas. Catherine was supported by at least two members of the current CPRC and one recent former member as well as dozens of other Richmond residents.
Catherine Montalbo has a degree in graphic design and has lived in Richmond since 2015. She has been involved for years as a volunteer with Rubicon and other organizations helping formerly incarcerated men and women integrate back into their communities. This included helping them master computer skills, create a resume to finding suitable clothing for job interviews and for work. She helped incarcerated and formerly incarcerated men and women start their own businesses, even going into prisons and jails to coach them.
Catherine was active in community and neighborhood groups in Oakland, where she lived 2007-2015, among other things, collaborating with the Oakland Police Department in efforts to reduce crime and deepen the partnership between police and neighbors. She also volunteered with Saint Vincent DePaul in Oakland, where she created a program and a small "boutique" that helped job seekers dress for success. She gave seminars and coached program participants with dressing as well as with interview skills.
Catherine’s applications states, “I have a strong belief in the importance of a partnership between law enforcement and citizens they are sworn to protect. I believe part of that effort is citizen involvement in police matters, especially when those matters affect members of the community.”
I appointed Catherine because I know her personally, and she came highly recommended by many credible people, including the references listed on her application.
Beginning a couple of days before the City Council meeting, Jeanne Kortz, a radical member of the Richmond Progressive Alliance began circulating an on-line petition, pretty much a who’s who of RPA members, claiming Montalbo is racist and should not be appointed.
At last Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, a number of mostly RPA-affiliated people spoke against the proposed appointment of Catherine. It was one of the most abusive, slanderous and hate-filled spectacles I have witnessed at a City Council meeting. Over and over, people called Catherine a racist. Even though Catherine is a Latina of Mexican heritage, former council member Ada Recinos characterized her appointment as supporting “white supremacy.”
When RPA founder Gayle McLaughlin was mayor, the City Council never failed to approve one of her commission appointments. Now is the third time the RPA has challenged one of my appointments, the first being Vinay Pimple, who was turned down for a Police Commission appointment and the second being Macy Leung, “RPA Picks a Fight over Planning Commission Appointment.”
Catherine’s political views obviously do not align with those of the radical Richmond Progressive Alliance, but neither do mine. In fact, Catherine’s political views likely do not even align with mine. However, the enabling legislation for the CPRC, which was fully supported by the Richmond Progressive Alliance, encourages the mayor to “appoint individuals representing diverse social, economic and political interests.” Clearly, the ordinance neither requires nor encourages the appointment of individuals who are in lockstep politically with each other, the RPA or any other group.
3.54.020 - Appointment and qualifications of members.
The Commission shall consist of nine (9) members who shall not be officers or employees of the City of Richmond and who shall be appointed by the Mayor. The Mayor shall endeavor to appoint individuals representing diverse social, economic and political interests and shall confer with the City Council concerning all appointments. All of the members of the Commission shall be residents of the City. All vacancies on the Commission shall be filled by appointment by the Mayor for the unexpired term of the appointee's predecessor. (Ord. No. 3-16 N.S., § I, 3-15-2016; Ord. No. 5-16 N.S., § I, 5-3-2016)
Some of Catherine’s views or social media posts that have been characterized as “racist” to the point of disqualifying her include the following:
“Citizens Police Review Commission” versus “Community Police Review Commission”
Catherine has stated, “I questioned why the CPRC had changed its name to adopt the word “community” instead of “citizen.” Some felt that the word “citizen” excludes those who are not legal citizens of the US, and I argued that my impression was that the word in this context was meant to signify those individuals who reside in a place. In other words, all those who reside in Richmond are citizens of Richmond. Police often refer to non-police as “citizens."
Until 2016, the name of the commission was simply “Police Commission.” Many of the same people who now fault Catherine for being skeptical about changing the name to “Community Police Review Commission” were adamant less than three years ago that the name should be “Citizens Police Review Commission.” On November 24, 2015, RPA stalwarts Tarnel Abbot, Make Parker, Jovanka Beckles and Gayle McLaughlin spoke in favor of the name change to “Citizens Police Review Commission.”
Item K-3. The matter to discuss recommendations for revisions to the Police Commission enabling ordinance and administrative procedures and introduce an ordinance (first reading) of the City Council of the City of Richmond amending Article III, Chapter 3.54 of the Richmond Municipal Code pertaining to the Police Commission, increasing the time allowed for complaints against police officers to be filed, and removing the outdated hearing process for those complaints was presented from Mayor Butt. David Gray presented a Powerpoint presentation. This item was continued from the October 27, 2015, meeting. The following individuals gave comments: Cordell Hindler, Patricia Perez, Gerald Sanders, Bea Roberson, Tarnel Abbot, and Mike Parker. A motion by Councilmember McLaughlin, seconded by Councilmember Beckles, that the ordinance be sent to the Police Commission for review and input and then return to the city council for approval, passed by the unanimous vote of the City Council. A motion by Mayor Butt, seconded by Councilmember Pimplé, that Sections 3.54.080 B, and 5C through B10, regarding conducting a public hearing be stricken, failed by the following vote: Ayes: Councilmember Pimplé, and Mayor Butt. Noes: Councilmember Beckles, Martinez, McLaughlin and Vice Mayor Myrick. Absent: Councilmember Bates. Abstain: None.
On March 15, 2016, the Police Commission voted unanimously to recommend the name change to “Citizens Police Review Commission.”
Police Commission Vote. Agenda Report March 15, 2016. 4. 3.54.010: Change the name of the Police Commission to the Citizens Police Review Commission. Commissioner Brown made the motion; Commissioner Bautista seconded the motion The motion was APPROVED- unanimously.
On May 3, 2016, the City Council unanimously adopted Ordinance 5-16 that, among other things, changed the name to “Citizens Police Review Commission.”
Apparently, the Citizens Police Review Commission once again has had buyer’s remorse and has recently adopted a recommendation to the City Council to yet again change the name to Community Police Review Commission, but the City Council has neither agendized nor acted on it.
Now, less than three years later, Catherine is being called racist for not supporting yet another name change to Community Police Review Commission,” a change that has not yet even come before the Richmond City Council.
‘Illegal Immigrant’ versus “undocumented immigrant.”
Catherine has used the term “illegal immigrant” in social media instead of “undocumented immigrant” to describe people who are in the U.S. without authorization. Although I prefer the term “undocumented” because it is non-controversial, seems to offend no one, and is politically correct in local politics, I don’t think it makes a person a racist to use the term “illegal.” When Obama laid out his plan for immigration reform in a 2013 speech, he used both the term “illegal” and “undocumented” when referring to immigrants in the U.S. without authorization. According to Jonathan Rosa, a linguistic anthropologist at the University of Massachusetts, both phrases muddle the conversation about immigration reform. “’’Undocumented’ and ‘illegal’ seem to be more about signaling one’s stance when it comes to immigration reform than it about characterizing the situation in a precise way,” Rosa said.
There are lots of articles and discussions about this on the Internet, such as “Is The Proper Term 'Illegal Aliens' or 'Undocumented Immigrants'?,” “Illegal” vs. “Undocumented”: A NWIRP Board Member’s Perspective,” “What Is the Proper Term: Illegal or Undocumented Immigrant?” and “’Undocumented Immigrant’ Is a Made-Up Term That Ignores the Law.”
Bottom line, if you don’t want to offend anyone, use the local politically correct term “undocumented immigrant.” Does using the term “illegal immigrant” make Catherine a racist and unfit to serve?
CPRC Protection of Undocumented Immigrants
Some of those opposing Catherine’s appointment claim that she would not provide a fair hearing for undocumented immigrants, or that she would intimidate them. Here is Catherine’s response: “Another claim has been made that I do not believe that undocumented residents of Richmond are entitled to the protection that the CPRC provides. This claim is false. It was made after I questioned why the CPRC had changed its name to adopt the word “community” instead of “citizen.” Some felt that the word “citizen” excludes those who are not legal citizens of the US, and I argued that my impression was that the word in this context was meant to signify those individuals who reside in a place. In other words, all those who reside in Richmond are citizens of Richmond. Police often refer to non-police as “citizens.”
Catherine responded to the racist charges by writing the following email to City Council members:
Dear Councilman _______,
By now I am sure you are aware of the effort that has been launched by several individuals to block my appointment to the Community Police Review Commission. In particular, there is a petition being circulated that focuses on my position with regard to illegal immigration. It goes on to make inaccurate claims regarding my views. I would like to take this opportunity to set the record straight.
I believe strongly in protecting our country’s tradition of rule of law. As part of my respect for that tradition, I believe that individuals who wish to enter the US should do so legally. I also believe that our immigration laws are broken and are badly in need of reform. I believe that the vast majority of those who cross the border illegally are coming to work and to better their lives and those of their families. While I do not imagine a scenario in which it would be acceptable to enter this country illegally, I also believe we need to make it easier for those who want to come here to work to be able to do so. They are a vital part of our economies.
Second, I am aware that Richmond has made itself a sanctuary city. While I am conflicted in regards to these types of laws, it IS the law and it should be respected by everyone. I understand why it benefits vulnerable communities who are often disproportionately victimized by crime. I can hold that view while still being conflicted about these laws.
Another claim has been made that I do not believe that undocumented residents of Richmond are entitled to the protection that the CPRC provides. This claim is false. It was made after I questioned why the CPRC had changed its name to adopt the word “community” instead of “citizen.” Some felt that the word “citizen” excludes those who are not legal citizens of the US, and I argued that my impression was that the word in this context was meant to signify those individuals who reside in a place. In other words, all those who reside in Richmond are citizens of Richmond. Police often refer to non-police as “citizens."
I am expecting many individuals to speak against my appointment at tomorrow’s City Council meeting. I will have some remarks of my own in response. I hope you will keep an open mind and listen and consider thoughtfully what will be said. I also ask that you consider welcoming those who wish to serve their communities who might have different perspectives and opinions than the majority. Disagreement and dialog, and an open exchange of ideas, are crucial aspects of a democracy and are required for its flourishing.
I am proud of the fact that so many people have told me that while they strongly disagree with my views, they respect my willingness to engage with civility and in good faith. I’m attaching screen captures of some examples of responses to this effort to block my appointment.
I applied for this position because I have a strong desire to serve my community. I believe that successful partnerships between police and the communities they serve, as well as transparency, are vital for all to feel protected and served well by our police. I hope you will vote to approve my appointment to the CPRC. Thank you.
A former Police Commissioner, Felix Hunziker, emailed the following:
Mayor Butt and Councilmembers,
I find the RPA’s slanderous mischaracterization of Catherine Montalbo’s political views and their McCarthyist attempt to silence political diversity in our community to be absolutely appalling.
Ms. Montalbo has proven herself time and again to be a highly intelligent, extraordinarily articulate and compassionate resident of our city. Although she’s unabashedly conservative, she also bemoans the idiot in the White House and other GOP leaders, demonstrating rare and refreshing objectivity in these partisan and tribal times.
The allegations by the RPA are blatantly false or misconstrued as Ms. Montalbo will be happy to explain to you Tuesday evening. At most she is guilty of being politically incorrect and conservative, which is no reason to bar a volunteer citizen from serving on a nine-member Commission that is supposed to reflect and represent our entire, diverse community. I’ll remind you that I too am politically incorrect and harbor a strong conservative streak, and yet as a member of the same board I was instrumental in protecting citizens’ rights and increasing police transparency and accountability. Service above self is what my Rotary Club says, and I am certain that Ms. Montalbo will do exactly that and we will all benefit from her wisdom and viewpoints.
In closing, I urge you to endorse Ms. Montalbo’s nomination to the Community Police Review Commission because she is a stellar and unique candidate, but also because in a City that prides itself on diversity it’s important that we actually practice what we preach.
I am going to resubmit Catherine’s appointment, and I hope the City Council will give her a chance to prove herself as a commission member rather than conducting a trial and convicting her over social media. She is willing to talk with anyone who wants to have a civil discussion. You can email her at [email protected].