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Citizen Review Board leaders seek accountability from members

CRB chair Lori Nilsson asks members to introduce themselves at their monthly meeting June 6, 2024.
City of Syracuse YouTube
CRB chair Lori Nilsson asks members to introduce themselves at their monthly meeting June 6, 2024.

Syracuse’s Citizen Review Board is trying to improve its own accountability in order to review complaints of police misconduct. CRB operations have in the spotlight since a failed attempt by the common council to increase oversight.

Board chair Lori Nilsson opened this month’s meeting in the usual way.

"All right, I'm going to call the meeting to order. It is 5:35,” Nilsson said on June 6.

Eight of 11 members were present, a strong showing compared to May when only five were on hand. Attendance has fluctuated dramatically in recent months, ranging from four members present in January to nine in April. That’s why Nilsson wants more of a solid commitment.

“There were some difficulties with attendance," Nilsson said. "I mean, none of this is new stuff that's been going on lately...people not responding to emails, not responding to phone calls. So we wanted to lay out the expectations.”

CRB administrator Ranette Releford says members need to sign off on expectations, rather than just agreeing verbally.

“We usually just encourage people to attend the meetings and haven't really put anything on there," Releford said. "But since I've been here, we've had to had to remove people for failure to come to meetings when it was like consecutive meetings in a row. I mean, it was just starting to get to be really difficult.”

Releford, who's been administrator since 2017, says consistent attendance is essential to address the mounting case back log.

Board member JahQuan Bey-Wright said the rules make sense. But he worries strict expectations with limited exceptions could scare off current and potential members who volunteer their time.

"We wouldn't have a board if we went by everything on that sheet," Bey-Wright said. "So we have to find a happy medium to make it work because it's hard to do things. I know I myself have been absent, and I know it's hard to get a quorum and things of that nature."

A quorum on an 11 member board is six members. Any less, and the board can't take action on addressing cases.

Meanwhile, others like Barrie Gewanter are closely watching the CRB to ensure its success. She played a key role in rewriting the board's guiding legislation in 2011, and opposed a recent attempt by the common council to take more control over its operations.

“Those of us that continue to talk about this are not done yet," Gewanter said. "We also want to lobby the individual councilors and talk about the CRB and what needs to be done and what does not need to be done.”

The mayor recently vetoed the council’s amendments. But he did issue a list of ways the council and the CRB can improve accountability, efficiency, and transparency.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at