Government, Latest News, Morgantown Council

Council moves forward changes to council term length, community policing

MORGANTOWN — Interim City Manager Emily Muzzarelli drew a Post-It Note from a blue, plastic cup during Morgantown City Council’s monthly committee of the whole meeting on Tuesday.

That bit of suspense was all part of a discussion about extending council elections from two to four years, and staggering elections so either three or four seats are up for election every two years.

The result of the drawing — should city voters approve the charter change doubling city council terms and staggering council elections when they go to the polls next April, wards 1, 3, 5 and 7 will serve two-year terms while wards 2,4 and 6 will serve four years.

Council currently serves two-year terms and all seven members are up for election at once.

The ordinance setting the ballot issue will be up for first reading on Sept. 1.

Also on Tuesday, council agreed to take up a resolution on community policing that points out 18 recommended public safety improvements, including:

  • Establish a diverse, qualified and trained volunteer Community Policing Advisory and Review Board to aid the city in policing practices, make recommendations for policy changes and investigate allegations of police misconduct
  • Reaffirm and augment the mission and operations of the police department
  • Strive to add enough racially and ethnically diverse officers to the police department to be at least proportional to the Morgantown population
  • Limit the city’s participation in the Federal 1033 program that provides military equipment to local and state police and restrict use of the program for  acquisition of military grade weapons.
  • Establish an arrangement with community agencies that enables those agencies to assist the police promptly when needed for follow-up on crisis situations, de-escalations, behavioral and mental health problems and intoxication.

The issue was the result of efforts from the Morgantown Human Rights Commission as well as leadership from the Morgantown Police Department and a special committee comprised of members of council as well as representatives from various agencies.

Former human rights commission member Don Spencer pointed to the recent shooting on Jacob Blake, in Kenosha, Wisc., as an example of why such efforts are needed.

“Body cameras don’t solve the problem,” Spencer said. “We have so much more to do because the difficulties are so inbred in ourselves. We have to find ways to reimagine and start on a different footing.”

Councilor Barry Wendell asked how the city could ensure other agencies operating within the city — West Virginia State Police, Monongalia County Sheriff’s Department, University Police — would fall under the guidelines set out in the resolution.

Morgantown/Kingwood NAACP President Jerry Carr was among those to provide input on the resolution.

“As far as I know, the only way we can really attack this problem is having a conversation with each of these entities one at a time,” Carr said. “Right now, I know our organization is involved with these discussions with WVU and the University Police Department at the moment.”

Also on Tuesday, council approved taking up the annexation by petition of Suncrest Elementary School at the request of the Monongalia County Board of Education as well as the former Ramada Inn building, on Scott Avenue, at the request of Morgantown Community Resources.

TWEET @BenConley_DP