Friday, April 05, 2002

Railroad job

No room for you on this train

        Pardon me for raining on the rose petals and confetti, but City Hall's racial-profiling settlement is a few tubas short of a parade.

        It went by in such a blur of back-patting adulation, it was hard to tell it was only a band of lawyers beating City Hall like a dime-store drum.

        After a year of mediating, facilitating and negotiating in secret meetings, federal Judge Susan Dlott gave the city less than 48 hours to approve 63 pages of legalese that could cost taxpayers $300,000 a page. Most council members can hardly wait to slam dunk it today. Public policy is so much easier without the public part, and all those uncomfortable questions.

Don't ask

        Such as:

        • Where's the racial-profiling beef? The lawsuit the city agreed to mediate as a class action in federal court, claiming decades of abuse, was a loser. The profiling “victim,” Bomani Tyehimba, refused to stop when police used their siren and lights to pull him over for crossing the yellow line. That's not racial profiling.

        “It's clear to me that this doesn't even come close to meeting the standards of a class action,” said councilman and lawyer Pat DeWine.

        A Department of Justice investigation found no evidence of profiling, discrimination or excessive force. Zero. The city's lawyer, Billy Martin, emphasized that the city made “no admission of unconstitutional or illegal conduct” by the cops.

        So there's no evidence of profiling. But the city could pay nearly $20 million, and put itself on double-secret probation for five years, to make it go away.

Riot insurance

        • What's the rush? Judge Dlott let deadlines for secret negotiations stretch like taffy. But she was adamant about the April 5 demand for city approval. I guess public review is less important than a big announcement just in time for the riot anniversary.

        • What about the shakedown? In November, ACLU lawyer Alphonse Gerhardstein accused council members of being “cynical” for asking about his fees. “I didn't get into this to make huge fees,” he objected. “This is not a bunch of lawyers manipulating the whole city to get fees. ... We don't get paid extraordinary fees.”

        But Mr. Gerhardstein, Ken Lawson and Scott Greenwood, representing the plaintiffs, battled from 4 p.m. until 2:30 a.m. during one secret session to collect $700,000 in fees. The city refused to pay. But Mr. Lawson says city officials promised to help raise the fees from local corporations. If they don't get the cash by Monday, the ACLU said, it would not sign the deal. Sounds like a bunch of lawyers manipulating the whole city to get fees.

        • Why is the city signing a deal with the Black United Front, which is pushing a damaging boycott and refuses to reveal its members?

        There are lots of good things in the deal — police computers, better oversight. But as council members repeatedly said, “This is stuff we should have done long ago.”

        So why didn't they do it — without holding a gun loaded with lawyers to their own head? Why don't they just keep the good stuff, and tell the judge to take a hike on Mount Mediation?

        I'd like to ask, but the parade is already long gone.

        E-mail: or call 768-8301.


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