Urbana Council Appoints Ammons, Takes Preliminary 5-1 Vote On Tasers

Aaron Ammons before being sworn in Monday to the Urbana City Council.

New Urbana Alderman Aaron Ammons is supported by friends and family in the city council chambers Monday night.

(Jeff Bossert/WILL)

Aaron Ammons is the newest member of the Urbana City Council, unanimously approved Monday to the seat formerly occupied by his wife Carol, who’s now a state legislator.

Ammons had his share of backers in the audience during special meeting Monday - including Champaign County NAACP President Patricia Avery. 

She cited his time chairing the county’s advisory committee on jury service and overcoming a past that included a drug conviction.

“Not often in America do you have someone who has challenges like Aaron has in his life that were able to give him a second chance,” she said.  “This is an opportunity for him to show an example for people who think that their life is over.”

Wife and State Representative Carol Ammons called Aaron’s appointment an easy one, noting the two of them have walked Ward 3 about 100 times before in her prior campaigns.   

“What we do need in Ward 3 is someone who will be able to bring something solid to the table, but also challenge the status quo,” she said.  “You don’t want to have a person representing poor people largely, and people working very low-wage jobs in many cases, elderly or retired people, who don’t have a lot of resources, cannot relate to that life.”

Aaron Ammons said one priority he’s discussed with Mayor Laurel Prussing is addressing a loss of property tax funds due to Carle Hospital’s tax-exempt status.

“When you lose that amount of money, such like 11-percent of our ability to tax the properties that Carle brought to the table, it’s going to hurt,” he said.

Ammons says he’ll also fight for social justice issues from his council seat, helping those who were formerly incarcerated find food and housing. 

The new alderman immediately got to discuss one of the issues that’s been before the council for about a year – tasers for police officers.  The council will take a final vote next week.

Plans call for buying up to six of them with federal grant funds.

Aldermen approved the plan on an initial 5 to 1 vote in Monday's Committee of the Whole meeting after hearing concerns from Ammons.

He said the city hasn’t properly addressed the idea of tasers with the African-American community, where he says there’s a disproportionate number of arrests.

“The data in the IDOT Traffic study, the reports clearly show that we are being policed different,” Ammons said.  “It has an economic impact, it has a social impact, and it feels like that is not being heard.”

Ammons also said he’s not convinced there is overwhelming evidence that Urbana Police need tasers, saying it's not clear that officers elsewhere would have avoided injury with them.

But Alderwoman Diane Marlin said she’s researched tasers and discussed the concept with members of C-U Citizens for Peace and Justice. 

She also defends a plan to give Urbana’s Citizen Police Review Board oversight on taser use.

“It’s an advisory body that will make recommendations to the election officials,” she said.  “But the buck stops with us.  So this is where oversight, accountability, and responsibility lies.”

Currently in Champaign County, only the Champaign County Sheriff’s Department and University of Illinois officers have tasers.

Urbana Police Chief Patrick Connolly said he took the time to make sure Urbana was inclusive on this issue, meeting with groups like the NAACP, the ACLU, and civic groups.

“Now there are going to be some people that still believe the earth is flat, and there’s nothing I can do about that,” he said.  “There are those though that based on all the data, we’re going to move forward, and finally that’s where we’re going.”

Story source: WILL