Resolution for reparations in South Bend taken off the agenda over technicality

SOUTH BEND, Ind. – The South Bend Common Council started the new year with infighting and miscommunication.

A resolution proposed by South Bend Common Councilman Henry Davis Jr. to give reparations to the city’s African-American community was removed from the meeting agenda because it didn’t meet the legal standard for filing. The move led to some accusations of council members making it more difficult for each other to pass legislation.

Common Council President Sharon McBride said that the resolution shouldn’t have even been on the agenda in the first place, because of its improper filing.

“It was not sent to the council. It was not sent to the attorney. It did not have who the petitioner was and it had no formal cover letter, which is mandated in chapter two of the ordinance that it has to be filed,” said McBride.

Bill 22-61 was a resolution for reparatory justice in South bend that called for the Common Council to issue a formal apology to the city’s African-American population and make financial reparations by using federal funds from the American Rescue Plan and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to invest in healthcare and affordable housing.

The legislation was authored and filed by Second District Councilman Henry Davis Jr.

"How do we go about investing in communities that have less or have historically been looked over? There's over a 50 percent poverty rate within the African-American community," Davis said, "and we have to address those issues."

However, in a statement from Sharon McBride and Common Council Vice President Sheila Niezgodski, the resolution was improperly filed, lacking a legally required cover letter, and—after consulting with City Attorney Bob Palmer—called for the City Clerk Dawn Jones to remove the resolution from the agenda.

"It is the legal rules of the State of Indiana to have it filed properly, or it can be dismissed as so," McBride said. "It was made clear for it not to be put on there. A final resolution went out of the agenda, from the clerk's office, to all the media outlets, and to the public, that it was put on without authorization from the council."

So why was it added?

"If it doesn’t have a cover letter, then the city clerk can reject it," said City Clerk Dawn Jones. "I guess I would come to the conclusion that if I can reject it, I can accept it."

Jones said she made the decision since the resolution had been publicly available for viewing for several weeks.

"Moving forward, I would say I wouldn't do that again," Jones said.

Its removal is now sparking confusion, questions, and concerns that the common council could be restricting some of its members from presenting new legislation. In her own statement, Clerk Jones accused the Common Council of that very concern.

"Never once have I been slowed or stopped, given the idea of a cover letter," Davis said. "Our council leadership said I do need a cover letter, so we don't need to talk about it today. And that runs afoul to the public process, the democratic process that we all govern under and through."

But McBride said the procedures in place are meant to help the council work together.

“One of the things I hear so much of as of late, is that we’re trying to take away the public’s rights,” said McBride. “Actually what we’re trying to do is make it more inclusive. For us not to have a dialogue with one another, for us not to talk to the community and for us not to talk to the administration—that’s not a good bill, and we’re seeing a lot more divisiveness. In what my role is as the president of the council, is to make sure that the council business is done orderly and done right. So no matter what council person, if something is filed incorrectly, in the future, going forward, I will remove it also.”

McBride added that they want to have the City Attorney work with Councilman Henry Davis Jr. on future legislation to continue the conversation about racial equality in South Bend.

Davis said he will refile the resolution and continue to advocate for reparatory justice. Black Lives Matter South Bend, in a statement, supported Davis' resolution and said they will not stop until it is passed.

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