Candidates assert qualifications for opening on Columbia's Citizens Police Review Board

Monday, September 26, 2011 | 9:35 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — The City Council interviewed three candidates Monday night for a vacancy on the Citizens Police Review Board.

Charles Poe, Merwyn Alexander and Jerry Kennett answered questions by council members for the first time. Five other contenders — Preston Bass, John Clark, Mitch Richards, Joy Rushing and Elizabeth Weilbacher — have been previously interviewed for other vacancies.

The position will open on Nov. 1, 2012, when board member John McClure's allotted three-year term expires.

The council is expected to make an appointment at its Oct. 3 meeting, according to the City Clerk's office.

The council spoke to each of the new candidates for 10 minutes, examining background details and asking specific questions about their perceived plans and expectations for their time on the review board.

Charles Poe

After serving as president of his former neighborhood association in St. Louis and as a member of that neighborhood's mobile patrol unit, Charles Poe has experience working to expand communication between police and residents.

Poe left Columbia in 1995 and returned 18 months ago. Since then, he said he's noticed a need for more unity between citizens and the police. To achieve this, Poe suggests joining the two groups into "a real working team."

He cited several policies he helped implement in St. Louis, like working to increase police action on small issues like loud music and trash collection. For more problematic areas, Poe suggests doing background checks on renters.

Poe said that in St. Louis he created a "hospitality house" — a project offering the police drinks and rest during summers.

He said he hopes that ideas like these will help foster greater understanding between the police and citizens. When he left the city people started asking how they could help the police rather than how the police could help them.

"That was probably one of the greatest feelings," he said.

Merwyn Alexander

As a State Farm claims adjuster, Merwyn Alexander said he is used to looking objectively at facts.

"My job is to seek out the facts and make a decision based on those," he said in his interview with the council.

Alexander comes from Texas and has a degree in journalism. He said his background in insurance gives him the insight needed to be qualified for the review board.

"I feel that my desire to volunteer would be a benefit to the board, city and community as a whole," he said.

Alexander said he thinks there are a few changes necessary to the board. For instance, he advocates creating a clearer definition of "misconduct" to determine whether a violation has occurred.

He also would like to see programs that inform the public about the police department and the work of police officers.

Alexander assured the council of his belief in the importance of the review board to the city.

"Citizens at all levels need to know there is a forum where persons can come and present complaints," he said.

Jerry Kennett

A cardiologist in Columbia for more than 30 years, Jerry Kennett has served on several medical boards, and has learned a lot in the process about listening to others and making fact-based decisions.

He said he believes that he will bring fair and balanced decision-making to the review board.

Interfering with the police force should not be the focus of the review board, Kennett said. "I don't think that micromanaging is the answer."

Instead, he emphasized the importance of the review board as an outside observer.

He advocates keeping the police chief in charge of increasing communication with residents and organizing involvement in community activities to encourage unity.

Kennett said he doesn't feel that the review board should have increased power under its ordinance.

"The police chief needs to be the leader of the police force," he said.

Regardless, Kennett said he understands the importance of communication and thinks that structured measures should be implemented to keep the community informed.

"Communication is the key to success," he said.

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