Last night the Rockville Mayor and Council adopted an ordinance that amends Chapter 11 of the Rockville City Code Entitled “Human Rights” by adding a new section entitled “Fostering Community Trust”. The law passed on a 3-2 vote with Councilmembers Julie Palakovich Carr, Mark Pierzchala, and Virginia Onley in support and Mayor Bridget Newton and Councilmember Beryl Feinberg opposed.
Palakovich Carr originally brought this issue forward because she was considering the introduction of a policy, ordinance, or resolution that would clarify the Rockville Police Department’s role in immigration enforcement and also to ensure that there is trust between the City and its residents regardless of immigration status. She asked for the item to be discussed at the February 27, 2017 meeting and then proposed the ordinance during the meeting. On March 6, 2017, a public hearing was held on the matter.[Read “Overflow Crowd for Hearing on Police Role in Immigration“.]
After a lengthy community forum at this Monday’s meeting, Feinberg surprised everyone by making a motion that, instead of an ordinance, the City Manager and police should be tasked with writing a policy of procedures on this matter. She contended that there was never a discussion on whether there should be an ordinance or policy by the Mayor and Council and now she wanted a policy.
In the 11 meetings held by the Mayor and Council since the initial discussion, Feinberg had never requested a discussion or work session for something other than the proposed ordinance. Pierzchala responded that Feinberg could have made this weeks ago and didn’t. Feinberg blamed it on how the body is functioning, “If we are really going to be truthful up here, this is how this body has been functioning for well over a year. It has been one thing after another. There have been things thrust in front of us.”
Onley agreed, stating that the City Manager had been suggesting work sessions to “get it all out on the table” and “not have these surprise attacks or last minute motions and really talk it through and make sure we do the right thing for the citizens of Rockville.”
Palakovich Carr pointed out that the City Staff did provide information on the difference between the options months ago. She countered that a policy was not as transparent as an ordinance or resolution. She noted the police will still need to come up with a general order and the police can make decisions about situations not addressed in the ordinance. However, Palakovich Carr noted the Mayor and Council should set the tone and the direction for the City, not a city employee.
Feinberg described both sides providing testimony as “fear mongering” and stated that ordinances could not be changed rapidly as might be needed in the field.
Noting she was “very disappointed,” Newton gave a speech thanking Feinberg for bringing this forward and claiming that once Palakovich Carr introduced the ordinance, it precluded the Mayor and Council from having any other choice. She also noted “venom” was spread on both sides of the issue. Pointing out that Rockville has had community policing for 20 years and did not have an issue with immigrants or people of color, Newton then accused some of having “political motivations”. Since she oversees each new officer taking their oath, she knows they take an oath to protect “our citizens, they don’t care whether we live here, whether we are legal, or – we’re not using that word – whether they are documented or not documented, they take an oath of office to protect this city without partiality or prejudice.”
Pierzchala then said, “Madame Mayor that was just a staggering speech.” To which Newton answered, “Thank you”, and he continued, “and not in a good sense.” He believed she had spoken to his point the the ordinance was brought forth as an ordinance which meant it would go through a process. Pierzchala noted it was a long process and there is nothing in the Mayor and Council procedures where they could not have had, as an example, a work session on this topic as long as it was public, “We could have done that. Anyone of us could have asked for that. Nobody did.”
Pierzchala explained that he had brought forth three changes, emailed it to his colleagues four weeks ago, and he had the legal department revise them before sending the revised language to his colleagues a week ago. Pierzchala compared this to Feinberg’s motion put forth with an expectation to vote on it immediately with “no process, no discussion.”
“The way that both Councilmember Feinberg and Mayor Newton alluded or claimed that this is a political motivation, I find that distasteful. I think that we should be judging the proposed ordinance, and also Councilmember Feinberg’s suggestion, on its merits and vote on it. There are differences of opinion. Nobody’s going to be happy. You can’t satisfy everybody on this one.” Pierzchala said.
The Feinberg motion was voted down 3-2 with Feinberg and Newton in favor. The resolutions put forth by Pierzchala were passed 3-1-1 with Feinberg opposing and Newton abstaining.
Before making the motion for the ordinance with the resolutions, Palakovich Carr stated that they had received input from more than 1,000 Rockville residents and there was overwhelming support for the ordinance by more than two to one. She made three points. The police will be able to concentrate on stopping crime not enforcing federal policies. There is no federal requirement for local enforcement of immigration laws, so the City is not at risk of losing any federal funding. The ordinance will make all Rockville residents safer because research shows that local jurisdictions that do not enforce immigration laws have lower crime rates.
“We need to send a clear message that the City of Rockville and our police will continue to serve everyone,” said Palakovich Carr before quoting a resident named John who stated, “We need to chose what kind of community we want to be. One where our people live in fear, or one where our neighbors and friends know that they are welcomed and accepted.”
Update: The ordinance restricts all City of Rockville employees — including police officers — from requesting citizenship or immigration status of any person unless required by law. The ordinance codifies an informal policy.