ACRB chooses new executive director
By Rhonda Cook
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
9:20 p.m. Thursday, April 12, 2012
The Atlanta Citizen Review Board selected a former civil rights attorney who is a veteran of police oversight as its new executive director Thursday night.
The 10-person board had to take two ballots before one of the four finalists received a majority of the vote. Former U.S. Justice Department prosecutor Holly Wiseman, who also is the former deputy independent police monitor in New Orleans, received six votes on the second ballot.
The board selected Grantville police Chief Clyburn Halley as its second choice should Wiseman not pass a criminal background check or not accept the job, which pays $100,000 a year.
The first vote was five for Wiseman, three for Halley and two for ACRB investigator Sheena Robertson. The fourth finalist out of an original pool of 160, Valerie Bell-Smith, a former Atlanta Police Department employee who is spokeswoman for Atlanta’s Department of Public Works, received no votes.
Seven citizens who signed up to speak before the vote pleaded with the board to select an independent executive director strong enough to stand up to political pressure. They were pleased with the decision.
"We hope this is a new era of oversight," said Tiffany Williams of the grassroots organization Building Locally to Organize for Community Safety.
The police oversight agency has been without an executive director since November, when Cristina Beamud resigned.
Beamud was the first to run the agency, which began operating in 2008 in response to the public’s outrage over the fatal shooting of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston during a botched 2006 police drug raid.
The ACRB is charged with hearing complaints against Atlanta’s police officers and making recommendations to the chief, who can accept or reject the board’s findings. For the most part, the chief has rejected board recommendations that go against the officers and accepted those in favor of the officers.
The choice of a new executive director comes at a critical time for the agency as the police department and the police union are pushing for changes in its role.
A formal offer must be extended to Wiseman. It is not clear when the new executive director will be in place.
Wiseman was backed by a coalition of community and human rights groups and watchdog organizations. The police union found Wiseman to be most qualified but said they feared she would try to reform the department and would push for transparency to an extent that would harm the reputations of officers against whom complaints are brought.
When Wiseman was the deputy police monitor in New Orleans, she was responsible for responding to citizen complaints against police officers. But New Orleans' approach is different than the one the ACRB takes. New Orleans audits findings by the police department and the ACRB conducts its own investigations.
Wiseman was with the U.S. Department of Justice for about 18 years, with assignments that included the civil rights division and overseas posts.
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