RACINE — A decision to hold a Tuesday meeting about the Police Department’s enforcement of marijuana possession in closed session has raised concerns of at least one alderman.
During preliminary discussion on November’s advisory referendum on marijuana legalization, 3rd District Alderman John Tate II proposed that the City Council “order the chief of police to direct all first-offense possession of marijuana violations be issued civil ordinance citations” instead of criminal charges and that the fine would be set at $1.
On Monday, the City Attorney’s Office recommended that the discussion of the proposal by the Public Safety and Licensing Committee at its meeting on Tuesday be held in closed session, citing a Wisconsin statute [19.85(1)(d] that allows closed sessions for “considering strategy for crime detection or prevention.”
“I was surprised when I saw that the agenda was revised to include a closed session on this item,” said 6th District Alderman Sandy Weidner.
Weidner and 10th District Alderman Carrie Glenn voted against going into closed session. Glenn could not be reached for comment on Wednesday to elaborate on the reasons for her vote.
“I don’t know what would have warranted that because we’ve had discussions in open session regarding these issues. I didn’t believe there would have been any new info that would have warranted a closed session,” said Weidner. “This is an issue of importance to the public and I had hoped that members of the public that were interested in this issue could have been present and participated in this discussion.”
Weidner also took issue with what seems to be an increase in closed-session discussions by city committees.
“I feel that we’re having them more and more,” said Weidner. “I’m not saying they’re not appropriate, but I believe that the people’s business is best done in the open.”
Aldermen Jeff Coe, Steve Smetana and Maurice Horton voted in support of going into closed session. Tate (who is not a member of the committee), Police Chief Art Howell and Mayor Cory Mason also were present for the discussion.
When the committee returned to open session, it voted unanimously to recommend the council “receive and file” the proposal, essentially implementing no changes.
The Journal Times reached out to the Mayor’s Office for comment about the reason for the closed meeting, but had not received a response as of Wednesday.
Policing pot in Racine
The City of Racine has had an ordinance making 25 grams or fewer of marijuana a forfeiture subject to a citation.
But a Journal Times investigation from 2017 found that the Racine Police Department was twice as likely to request the pressing of state criminal charges than to issue a citation as per the local ordinance.
Tate’s proposal went to the Public Safety and Licensing Committee, where aldermen raised questions on whether the council had the power to make such a directive at the police chief and wanted to learn more about how the city is currently policing marijuana possession.
The discussion was deferred until city staff could answer some of the aldermen’s questions and so Howell could attend and answer some questions in person.