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Ordinance Creating State College Community Oversight Board Will Go Into Effect Without Mayor’s Signature

The recently approved ordinance establishing a Community Oversight Board for the State College Police Department will become law without Mayor Ron Filippelli’s signature.

While Filippelli said in a statement to StateCollege.com on Friday that he supports the creation of the COB, he objected to the inclusion of critical race theory as one of the required training for board members outlined in the ordinance.

Because he was appointed mayor to fill the unexpired term of Don Hahn and not elected by the voters, Filippelli said, he chose not to veto the ordinance, meaning it will automatically become law on Aug. 30, two weeks after it was approved by the borough council.

A veto likely would have been moot anyway. After a year of discussion and planning, council approved the ordinance by a 7-0 vote on Monday and five votes would be needed to override a veto.

Filippelli, who holds a Ph.D. in history and taught labor history at Penn State for 40 years, said during Monday’s meeting that his objection wasn’t to the concept of critical race theory — scholarship that examines the role of racism in legal institutions and policies — but that he found it “extremely difficult ethically as a historian” to endorse an ordinance that incorporated a single “contested theory” of American history.

“As a professional historian, I cannot accept the idea that Borough Council, no matter how good the intentions, has chosen to imbed in a law one particular body of historical theory that members of a public body must be exposed to,” Filippelli wrote in the statement. “This should not be done in a democracy. Furthermore, the municipality should not be put in this position. It should not be seen as taking ideological positions.”

Council members Jesse Barlow, Deanna Behring, Evan Myers, and Theresa Lafer — who first suggested more general language for the training requirements before saying she supported the version ultimately approved — all spoke at varying length about the need for board members to have an understanding of historic role racism plays in American institutions.

Filippelli said he did not disagree with any of their comments and in fact agrees with much of critical race theory. In his statement, he also derided the way it has been “unfortunately and erroneously exploited widely in a cartoonish version for political purposes in the culture wars that currently plague the nation.”

But theories of history are debated and change, and some historians have honest disagreements with elements of critical race theory, he wrote.

“It has profoundly affected the way scholars see the impact of race on American institutions,” Filippelli wrote. “It is, in large measure, good scholarship, and I agree with much of it.  But it is one of many theories that deal with the impact of slavery and racism in American history. Many American historians endorse CRT.  But also, some American historians of all races have expressed disagreement with elements of CRT.  It is contested history, as are all theories of history.”

Other initial trainings for board members outlined in the ordinance include participation in a Citizens Police Academy as well as information on civil rights law, the Fourth Amendment, Pennsylvania use of force laws, implicit bias, cultural competency, and police department trainings and practices.

The nine-member COB will be appointed by the borough council, with its establishment effective Oct. 1. A director to be hired for the newly created borough Department of Equity and Inclusion will serve as a non-voting coordinator for the board.

Board members will serve three-year terms.

Filippelli said on Friday that while he is not signing the ordinance, he believes that, apart from the critical race theory training, it will achieve the goal of creating “a fair and unbiased community board to work with our police department, interested community groups, and the Borough administration to ensure transparency and build trust and positive relationships with all segments of the community.”

Mayor Ron Filippelli Statement on Community Oversight Board Ordinance:

I am writing to inform the citizens of the communities policed by the State College Police Department of my reasons for not signing the ordinance establishing a community oversight board.  I want to say at the beginning that I support the creation of a fair and unbiased community board to work with our police department, interested community groups, and the Borough administration to ensure transparency and build trust and positive relationships with all segments of the community.  

I think the ordinance passed by Borough Council will help to achieve these goals, with one glaring exception.  The ordinance states in the section on Initial Training that Board Members “must” complete a training program which includes a list of requirements.  I consider all but one of those requirements reasonable and useful.  And I also believe that Board Members should be provided with access to a variety of scholarly sources to familiarize themselves with the catastrophic impact slavery and racism have had on our country.   But instead, Council has chosen to imbed in the law one body of theory that has come to be called Critical Race Theory.  Critical Race Theory is the umbrella name for a body of scholarly studies of the way in which slavery and racism have negatively impacted the African American community and the nation in a plethora of ways, including in the present.  It has profoundly affected the way scholars see the impact of race on American institutions.  It is, in large measure, good scholarship, and I agree with much of it.  But it is one of many theories that deal with the impact of slavery and racism in American history.  Many American historians endorse CRT.  But also, some American historians of all races have expressed disagreement with elements of CRT.  It is contested history, as are all theories of history.  It is also, unfortunately and erroneously, exploited widely in a cartoonish version for political purposes in the culture wars that currently plague the nation.   As a professional historian, I cannot accept the idea that Borough Council, no matter how good the intentions, has chosen to imbed in a law one particular body of historical theory that members of a public body must be exposed to.  This should not be done in a democracy.  Furthermore, the municipality should not be put in this position.  It should not be seen as taking ideological positions.

I have chosen not to veto the ordinance because I was not elected by the citizens of State College to the office of mayor, but appointed by Council.  Under these circumstances I do not think it appropriate for me to exercise the veto power.  Therefore, I have chosen instead to let the ordinance become law without my signature.

-Mayor Ronald L. Filippelli

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About the Author

Geoff Rushton (StateCollege.com)

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for StateCollege.com. Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.

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