The BART police committee mess

By Tim Redmond

In the wake of the shooting of Oscar Grant, which was captured on videotape and inflamed the community, and 17 years after the shooting of Jerrold Hall, which was reported only by me and roundly ignored by BART’s establishment, the BART Board finally agreed to set up a subcommittee to look at police oversight and procedures. But if you haven’t heard much from that panel, it’s not surprising — Sweet Melissa reported last week that the police oversight committee hadn’t yet held any public meetings.

But wait — it gets even better.

I called Linton Johnson, the BART spokesperson, and asked him if Melissa had it right. “No, not at all,” he said. “The committee meets in public all the time.” When would that be? “At the regular BART Board meetings, every other Tuesday and Thursday.” Huh? I admit, I haven’t been to a BART Board meeting in a while, but it turns out, according to Johnson, that the committess all meet simultaneously with the full board. “The board goes into recess then reconvenes to hear reports from the various committees,” he explained.

That’s odd, I told him — no other agency I know of does that. Why BART? Well, he explained, the board members only get paid “their miserable $1,000” when they attend full meetings, and most of them didn’t want to take the time to come to an additional meeting on a different day.

Jesus, that’s lame. The San Francisco School Board members go to weekly meetings AND committee meetings AND spend about 30 hours a week working on school stuff, and they get $500 a MONTH. The BART Board members make four times as much and are too lazy to get to more than two meetings?

Wait — there’s more. Melissa told me that Linton’s story “was completely different from what he told me. He said he didn’t even know when the next meeting was.” And more: Quintin Mecke, who works for Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, was actually at the last BART Board meeting, and he told me that the police oversight committee reported that they had, in fact, been meeting on their own, with various community leaders and experts on police oversight — but they hadn’t given any public notice of those meetings and the sessions had been private.

I called BART Board member Tom Radulovich, who is on the committee, and he told me that “we will start having public meetings soon.” But he said he worried that public sessions might not be as productive — “I’ve been to a lot of public hearings at CIty Hall, and people say things differently in public than they do in private. We want to have conversations, and public hearings are not always conversations.”

Sure — but private meetings aren’t good, either. That’s why the state’s Brown Act requires most public agencies to do most of their work in public. How is BART getting away with this? Well, Johnson says, the folks at BART HQ have conveniently decided that the police oversight committee is actually just a subcommitee, and since it has four members, and there are nine BART Board members, a meeting of the subcommittee doesn’t include a quorum of BART Board members and thus doens’t require public notice.

Give me a fucking break.

I like Tom Radulovich, and he’s one of the very few decent members of a generally miserable board, but he’s missing the point here. Legal or not, it looks terrible for this committee to be holding secret meetings. This nonsense has to end.