Phoenix Budget In Limbo Over Police Oversight Office
The issue of police oversight leaves Phoenix’s budget in limbo — at least for a few more days. On Wednesday night, after a meeting that lasted more than five hours, the City Council failed to pass a tentative budget.
In light of protests surrounding the death of George Floyd and police brutality, Councilmember Carlos Garcia requested more funding for a new office that will have the power to investigate police shootings and use of force.
On March 17, the city manager’s trial budget called for $2.5 million to establish a community review board and Office of Accountability and Transparency, but then COVID-19 hit and the economy tanked. The city manager revised the trial budget and reduced funding to $400,000 to cover initial staffing.
Due to social distancing guidelines, council chambers are closed to the public and during yesterday’s meeting hundreds of people rallied outside calling for city leaders to defund the police department.
Mayor Kate Gallego said 183 people had registered to provide public comment by phone. The overwhelming majority who spoke repeated two requests: that the council fully fund the new office and reduce the police department’s budget by at least 25% and move the money into community enrichment programs.
Garcia asked for $2.5 million to fully fund the office but his motion failed by a single vote.
“I want everyone to understand what we’re doing today is we’re turning our backs on a crisis, an uprising that’s happening across the country,” he said. “We actually have an opportunity to spend less than half a percent of the budget to try to address this issue.”
Councilwoman Thelda Williams said she was very concerned about the economic uncertainty. Two months ago the city froze hiring for non-essential employees and Phoenix’s budget director has asked all departments to submit budgets with cuts up to 25%. Sales tax data for April will not be known mid-June.
“We’re not out of this,” Williams said. “We have hotels that don’t work, we have all the convention centers that have no customers, people are not eating out and it’s going to take us a long time to get to normal.”
Two other budget motions also failed by one vote each — one motion would have kept the proposed budget with $400,000 earmarked for the office while the other would keep the proposed budget with $400,000 for the office as well as direct staff to begin looking immediately at ways to find funding as quickly as possible.
Mayor Gallego called a special meeting Monday for another vote on the budget that is supposed to take effect July 1. An agreement must be reached soon in order for Phoenix to adhere to legal notices state statute.
Jessica Boehm covers the city for the Arizona Republic, and she joined The Show on Thursday to talk about the budget.