Three months after 13-year-old Andy Lopez was shot and killed by a sheriff's deputy just outside city limits, the Santa Rosa City Council on Tuesday will for the first time allow community members to express their thoughts about the tragedy and to learn more about how the city is responding to it.
Mayor Scott Bartley said he hopes the forum will help move the conversation forward from its current place of anger and divisiveness toward the community healing that needs to begin.
"We've got to get this into a positive place," Bartley said.
He said he hopes members of the public intent on speaking to the council are also receptive to hearing about the constructive work being behind the scenes.
"I want to be able to convey the message that we haven't just been sitting silently by," Bartley said.
Unlike the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, which has held several forums in the wake of the Oct. 22 shooting, Tuesday will be City Council's first chance to formally hear from community members on the subject.
City officials closed City Hall and canceled the City Council meeting the week after the shooting over concern that a protest might endanger the safety of its downtown workers. City Council members were initially instructed to say nothing about the shooting, which occurred Oct. 22 after Sonoma County Sheriff's Deputy Erick Gelhaus spotted Lopez carrying what turned out to be an airsoft-type BB gun.
Early last month, protesters upset that Gelhaus was allowed to return to work tried to address the council, but the Dec. 10 meeting was suspended after the demonstration became disruptive.
City Manager Kathy Millison's presentation to the council, titled Review of Action to Address Community Tragedy and Path to Healing, will include a summary of the goals of the Community and Local Law Enforcement Task Force established by the supervisors Dec. 10.
Councilwoman Erin Carlstrom said she's not sure what to expect from the meeting but hopes it is well attended.
"I hope they turn out en masse to tell us how they feel because that's what we were elected to do," Carlstrom said.
Councilwoman Julie Combs said she is "delighted" the council is finally giving the community the chance to "talk to us about their concerns." She said she knows it "isn't going to be an easy public hearing for us," but said it is an important one.
"I think the first step on the pathway to healing is for us to listen to residents of the greater Santa Rosa area, particularly about their sense of frustration and anger and disenfranchisement," Combs said.
She said she expects the meeting to be similar to the ones before the Board of Supervisors. Those have primarily involved large groups of protesters denouncing the board for neglecting their community, demanding the prosecution of Gelhaus and calling for greater citizen oversight of law enforcement.
Since the Santa Rosa Police Department is the agency investigating the shooting, Combs said she expects speakers will also take the opportunity to question the independence and integrity of the department's probe given the professional ties between the two law enforcement departments.
In addition to Millison's report, the council will also do some soul-searching of its own.