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Wu announces council committee assignments

Choices raise hopes for body cameras, education

Jule Pattison-Gordon
Wu announces council committee assignments
Following announcement of committee assignments, city councilors convened for a meeting. Councilor Tito Jackson, right, who enters his second term as Education Committee chair, spoke in favor of a proposed hearing on inconsistencies in commuter rail fares.

Last week, City Council President Michelle Wu unveiled the new council committee assignments and structures, decisions that will strongly impact what gets championed and passed this year.

Wu also introduced several new committees, along with restructurings and dissolutions of others. Before making final decisions, she met with councilors to discuss their goals and requested they rank preferences. Diversity, body cameras and quality public education loomed large on their agendas.

Diversity causes

The Post Audit and Oversight Committee, long-chaired by former Councilor Charles Yancey, was dissolved. Post Audit and Oversight paid special interest to the level of diversity in the city’s hiring. Recent committee revealed a failure of the fire and police departments to hire enough people of color.

Continued attention on bringing and maintaining diversity in law enforcement and firefighting is of great importance, especially as many officers of color retire and diversity wanes, said Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice.

“There should be continued oversight over the hiring, including and promoting process of fire and police departments to be sure these important agencies are reflective of the communities they serve,” he said.

The dissolution of the committee does not necessarily mean an end to its purpose, Wu said. Other committees will take on the Post Audit and Oversight Committee’s budget oversight responsibilities. She added that diversity in city procurement is a major focus this term.

Body cameras are back

Segun Idowu, co-founder of the Boston Police Camera Action Team saw new hope for body camera policy in this year’s council.

Last year, BPCAT presented the city council with a proposed policy for guiding use of body-worn cameras and the storage, access and sharing of the videos. When the ordinance was sent to the Government Operations Committee — chaired by Councilor Michael Flaherty — the committee members not to act before their term ended, allowing it to die.

Idowu says the organization will reintroduce the body camera ordinance. Should it not pass in council this term, BPCAT will lose what may be the easiest path to implementation, but will have other options, such as petitioning the police commissioner for executive action.

If the ordinance again is sent to the Government Operations Committee, it likely will face the same fate. Flaherty continues as chair and Idowu said the new vice chair, Josh Zakim, told BPCAT that he did not believe the policy should go through the council.

“If it goes there [Government Operations] it will probably go there to die,” he said.

Idowu said he hopes Wu will direct the ordinance to the new incarnation of the Public Safety Committee — now expanded to be the Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee. It is chaired by newcomer Andrea Campbell, from whom Idowu expects a more positive response, based on her campaign stances. The new vice chair, Timothy McCarthy, has been ambivalent on the ordinance, but in favor of a body-camera pilot program, Idowu said, adding that he hopes McCarthy can be brought to share BPCAT’s view.

“We are very happy that councilor Wu created this new committee, showing commitment to criminal justice reform — which was part of her campaign — and we are happy that she named councilor Campbell to be over the committee,” he said.

Overall, the new council constitutes a more progressive body, Idowu said.

“Boston has elected some pretty progressive people to the council, especially the new councilors — Councilors Campbell and Essaibi-George,” Idowu said. “A lot of the councilors last year, including Councilor Murphy, as soon as they were given the policy rejected it without reading it,” he said.

On the day of Essaibi-George’s swearing-in, the Banner asked her about BPCAT’s ordinance. Essaibi-George she had not seen the specific proposal but that she supported the pilot program and such a policy was necessary.

“We have to set policy,” she said.

In addition to criminal justice reform in general, the Public Safety and Criminal Justice committee will explicitly take on reducing recidivism and easing reentry into society.

“It matched perfectly [with Campbell’s interests],” Wu said.

Education agenda

As City Council Tito Jackson enters his second term as chair of the Education Committee, he is joined by new vice chair Essaibi-George. Jackson said that early education and the needs of English Language Learner and special education students are among the issues on which he would like to focus.

Carolyn Kain chairs the Boston Special Education Parent Advisory Council, or SpedPac, a citywide parent council that advocates for the needs of special education children in BPS. Kain said that major goals of SpedPac include improving services to help children with disabilities transition from school into the next stage in their lives and evaluations to ensure current students’ needs are being met properly. This includes moving SPED students into inclusionary settings — classrooms that integrate them with non-SPED peers — as soon as it becomes a reasonable option for the children. It also means and identifying and meeting student needs before they evolve to special education level.

However, Boston Public School’s tight funding poses a limitation and concern.

Major budget cuts, paired with increased costs and decreased state aid, have created what BPS officials estimate is a $50 million budget deficit. Heightening this is charter school advocates’ promise of record-smashing spending — $18 million — on a campaign to lift the Legislature’s cap on the amount of charter schools. Such a lift could exacerbate BPS’s financial shortfall because the reimbursement that district schools receive when students attend charters continues to be inadequate, Jackson said.

Transportation costs — which comprise 10 percent of BPS’ budget — further burden the school system. BPS is required to provide transportation to charter schools but has no control over their start and end times, Kain said. Furthermore, if the MBTA’s proceeds with proposed fare raises, Jackson said that BPS’ current strategy of transporting seventh and eighth graders by T may no longer be a cost-saver.

The council, which approves the city budget, will have some sway.

Jackson said he will press for a modification to the charter reimbursement formula. He also will look into ways to make bus routes more efficient and alternate methods of transport — potentially dropping the T.

Kain said SpedPac has had a close and positive working partnership with the city council, which seems set to continue. All councilors have been responsive when called upon for support, Kain said, and added that many — including Jackson, Ayanna Pressley, Matt O’Malley and Wu — are regular attendees at SpedPac meetings. Essaibi-George’s addition as new vice chair of Education is promising as well: the councilor has children in BPS and used to teach in the system.

“We know councilor Jackson along with Councilor [Essaibi-]George will have background and insight into BPS and how it works,” Kain said.

Jackson’s experience championing education issues and his accrued institutional expertise, in addition to his listed preference, contributed to the selection of him as chair, Wu said.

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