MANSFIELD — A group seeking to restructure Mansfield's police review board -- aimed at making it more independent -- is operating under a tight timeline to get the issue on the November ballot.
The local Black and Brown Coalition needs 1,376 signatures of registered city voters supportive of the initiative petition filed with the Richland County Board of Elections by Aug. 10 -- 90 days before the Nov. 8 general election.
That number of signatures represents 10 percent of the total number of City of Mansfield voters who participated in the 2018 gubernatorial election.
In reality, the timeline is even tighter, according to Matt Finfgeld, local elections director, who said the ballot language and the signatures must be presented to Finance Director Linn Stewart's office 10 days before they are given to the board of elections.
That means all of the signatures must be effectively collected by late July.
Mansfield City Council created the current Police Review and Community-Police Relations Commission in 2003, a seven-member board tasked with examining MPD internal investigations of resident complaints.
4th Ward Councilman Alomar Davenport unveiled the proposal Wednesday during a meeting at the North End Community Improvement Collaborative.
He said Thursday that Mansfield residents -- not council members -- should decide on the creation of a more powerful review commission, which would have the authority to direct an "inspector general" to investigate citizen complaints.
"Council could (make these changes) on its own," Davenport said. "But this is a community review board, so we as the Black and Brown Coalition wanted the entire community to have the opportunity to weigh in on it.
"We didn't want eight council members to decide it," he said.
Davenport said the group's goal is 3,000 signatures by July 15, "just in case for whatever reason we would have to go back and get more."
Davenport said the proposal, titled the Wayne McDowell Police Review Board Ordinance, is the next step in a process McDowell started when he helped launch the Black and Brown Coalition and assisted in the development of a Code of Conduct between the MPD and the community in 2020.
A longtime civil rights advocate and educator, McDowell died in January 2021.
"This is the vision of Wayne McDowell," Davenport said. "It was a part of the last conversation we had before he passed away."
Davenport said the proposal is in line with citizen review commissions recently approved by voters in Columbus and Cleveland.
The current police review board is what Davenport called a "review focused model." Once a complaint is filed against the police, the police conduct their own investigation and then bring their findings to a review board.
Since police are tasked with investigating themselves, Davenport said the current process is inherently biased.
Under the restructured format, Davenport said an independent inspector general would conduct an investigation into a citizen complaint "simultaneous" to the police internal investigation.
The proposed seven-page ordinance was submitted to the city's Finance Department on May 6. That means coalition members may begin seeking and gathering signatures on May 16.
"That is the phase we are in right now," Davenport said. "We will be working heavy on this (effort) this summer. We will be at the local Juneteenth event with a table seeking signatures."
According to the proposal filed with the city, the committee working on the initiative petition are Davenport, Anna Marie Durtschi, Carla James, Christa Harris and Latonya Ann Palmer.
"Those who want to sign the petition can contact me or any members of the Black and Brown Coalition," Davenport said.
(Coming Friday: A closer look at the proposed Wayne McDowell Police Review Board Ordinance and reaction from other local officials, including police Chief Keith Porch.)