Grand Rapids oversight candidates questioned in virtual town hall

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The city of Grand Rapids held a virtual town hall Monday evening, giving the community the chance to meet and question the finalists for the new director of oversight and public accountability position.

The city says the new oversight and public accountability position will build and maintain the trust of the public and serve as a connection between the fire and police departments. The position will also oversee independent reviews and investigate alleged misconduct of city employees.

The city says it is necessary that the person who holds the position has an understanding of public safety operations and challenges.

The field has been narrowed down to three finalists: Brandon Davis, Kristen Rewa and William Weeden. All are attorneys. Davis and Rewa are both city insiders.

Davis has been interim director of the City of Grand Rapids’ Office of Oversight and Public Accountability since Aug. 2019. He previously held roles as a labor relations specialist for Grand Rapids and an assistant prosecutor for Muskegon County.

He said he sees room for change in how the city handles internal investigations within the police department.

“There are members of community that strongly struggle with the validity of internal affairs results just because of the fact that there are police policing police,” Davis told participants.

Rewa is an assistant city attorney for Grand Rapids, providing police and fire operations with legal counsel.

She, too, spoke about concerns around how complaints against officers are handled.
 
“What specifically about the process causes the concern and can it be improved or do we need another model?” Rewa asked rhetorically. “Just because we’ve done it for the last 20 years doesn’t mean it’s going to work for the next 20 years.”

Weeden leads a criminal law and civil rights legal practice in Chicago. He previously served in police oversight roles in both Chicago and Nashville, Tennessee.

He questioned whether the citizens appeals board that currently takes up police disciplinary matters on appeal needs more power.

“Transparency, openness,” Weeden said. “Those are things that are most important to citizens of any community when they’re dealing with public servants, investigations. … Those are some areas that definitely need some improvement.”

The digital town hall, which lasted more than two hours, was broadcast in English and Spanish. Facebook tabulated more than 2,000 views of the live event as of Monday evening.

City Manager Mark Washington will make the ultimate decision on who is hired for the role. He has not said when he will make that decision but city officials said he will consider feedback from the public as well as from members of the police and fire departments.