A Public Hearing scheduled for Wednesday, August 5th appears to be in jeopardy. When the Geneva City Council passed a resolution, calling for a public hearing to begin the creation of a police accountability board, organizers who have been advocating for change thought that progress was happening.
After months of daily protesting and organizing, the Peoples People Protests presented City Council with several proposals, including the aforementioned Resolution 34-2020.
This week FingerLakes1.com learned that the local law, which needed to be drafted ahead of the hearing – had not even been started. It’s a fact that left the upcoming session in a state of limbo, as no official announcements about changes to the session were made by city officials.
“It has to be in your hands before the public hearing.” – Emil J. Bove Jr. on July 1st
At the beginning of July, the Geneva City Council debated an amendment to Resolution 34-2020, which had been sponsored by Ward 5 City Councilor Laura Salamendra.
At the start of the fifth hour of the Geneva City Council meeting that spanned six-hours, a conversation sparked after At-Large City Councilor Anthony Noone proposed an amendment, striking the third paragraph of the resolution in an attempt to have a “special meeting” that would be “purely a public forum” rather than an official public hearing.
But Emil J. Bove Jr., Esq., the city’s attorney forewarned Noone that this amendment would be taking a step backward in the pursuit of eventually creating a police accountability board by skirting around the state’s Municipal Home Rule Law.
“I’m not recommending you to do this. This is your decision to do this or not. You’re going outside the Municipal Home Rule now. If you’re doing it this way, you’re delaying the process” Bove answered in response to Noone.
If City Council pushed this plan forward, eliminating this portion of the resolution would allow “only speaking input” from the general public to be directed toward the elected officials, according to Bove.
Prior to discussing this contentious amendment for nearly thirty minutes, Ward 4 City Councilor Ken Camera sought for clarification about the resolution’s process from Bove, who then informed him that a local law had already been submitted for his review by the Peoples Peaceful Protests prior to the start of that meeting.
“A local law has been submitted. You can recite a local law has been submitted to create a police accountability board by amending the city charter,” Bove explained.
Amid the confusion that lasted for a half-hour, a conversation derailed between Camera and Ward 2 City Councilor Bill Pealer Jr. and Bove attempted to step-in, asking to do so on multiple occasions before being recognized by Mayor Steve Valentino to speak.
“I respectfully disagree with Councilman Pealer. This clearly states it’s a public hearing for a local law. So that language is pretty clear to me,” Bove shared.
At that point, Bove mentioned if councilors were intending to schedule another separate meeting dedicated to hearing input without any action to follow, the public may not respond popularly to that decision.
“You’re just going to have another meeting for the public to tell you whether they want one or not. I’m not sure if they’ll be happy with that,” he admitted.
Shortly after, several councilmembers chimed in agreement with Bove’s remarks.
“People want to hear something here,” Bove continued.
He then posed a legitimate question to the entire City Council on the Zoom call: “Do you want to work towards a public accountability board or not?”
Councilors asynchronously responded to Bove’s inquiry with vocal affirmations in support of pursuing the possibility of a police accountability board in Geneva.
With these affirmations, Bove later revealed that delaying the meeting “doesn’t make any sense to me” during the heated debate regarding Noone’s amendment to the resolution.
At one moment, a question about the public hearing and the creation of said local law had been brought forth by Pealer.
Pealer asked, “The vernacular at it stands, before the amendment, does it imply and require us to have the entire law written in less than thirty days? We’re having a hearing about a law that doesn’t exist yet.”
“It has to be in your hands before the public hearing,” Bove answered to Pealer’s inquiry.
Spending thirty minutes debating Noone’s amendment, which ultimately failed – the resolution passed, as written by a 5-4 simple majority vote.
Twenty-seven days ago, Bove stood-up as the leader of their strategic legal counsel in advising City Council about the clarified procedure behind the approved resolution – and yet progress has been stalled on his front following the historic vote to even consider a police accountability board.
“So, the problem here is that when the resolution passed, scheduling the public hearing in July, there was no local law, and there still isn’t a local law.” – Emil J. Bove Jr. on July 27th
Bove, who made the process abundantly clear to councilmembers on July 1st has waited for a directive from them to proceed with crafting the local law ahead of the August 5th public hearing, which has not been completed.
Meaning, the local law has not been created yet with only nine days and counting left before that the public hearing officially begins.
“Basically, a local law has to be drafted by the city attorney and that hasn’t been possible because the City Council has not provided the city attorney with no direction on how to proceed. I have to have direction as to what would be in the local law,” Bove told FingerLakes1.com.
“So, the problem here is that when the resolution was passed, scheduling the public hearing in July, there was no local law, and there still isn’t a local law,” he continued.
Even though the aforementioned resolution specified that the drafted local law would be devised from the Peoples Peaceful Protests proposal, no new actions have been accomplished since the July meeting, according to Bove.
“We’ve gone through the process in the intervening month, asking for direction from the City Council. We’re still waiting for that. The city attorney would not approve a local law prepared by a member of the public. We take it into consideration. The City Council said this is what we want you to do, but they haven’t done that,” he added.
Bove also believed that the resolution did not pertain to the drafting of a local law ahead of the August meeting.
“It didn’t say, we’re going to hold a public hearing on August 5th, on the attached local law. But thing ends up on the agenda without a local law,” he elaborated.
Yet, he requested for the Peoples Peaceful Protests to submit their local law proposal for Bove’s self-imposed informal deadline on Tuesday, July 21st – one week ago from today.
This proposal and the collective input of the Peoples Peaceful Protests also accompanied comments shared by the city’s NAACP chapter, according to Adam Fryer, one of their lead organizers.
During the July City Council meeting, Bove mentioned that he would start reaching-out to the PPP, NAACP, and other stakeholders to get their perspectives on the subject in only a matter of a couple weeks.
He also offered-up an idea to adopt the Rochester PAB local law, which is primarily the same one that the Peoples Peaceful Protests presented to Bove last Tuesday.
“We can use that perhaps as a template,” Bove proposed at the July meeting.
In fact, the local law itself mirrors the Rochester except for the disciplinary function of the PAB, a recommendation that Bove made publicly at one point.
His opinion had been valued enough, causing organizers to remove the disciplinary language from the submitted local law as a concession after Bove informed the Peoples Peaceful Protests that the Geneva Police Department were not in favor of that portion of the PAB.
As a result, their decision to remove the disciplinary function of the PAB had been agreed upon – all in an effort to accommodate to the Geneva Police Department.
But now, Bove has backtracked on his own word since the beginning of July by outlining a new procedure on how local laws must be processed through his office as the city attorney.
“If the City Council or someone wants to submit a local law to be on the agenda and asking that a public hearing be scheduled, submit it to us a month in advance, so that we can read it, if you’re asking us to draft one,” he later explained.
Following the July meeting, few events were scheduled in the public for local elected officials to reflect upon the prospects of a police accountability board – none by City Council itself.
On Saturday, July 18th, Hobart and William Smith Colleges hosted a teach-in to discuss the historical significance and trajectory of the police accountability board and its future with strategic community partners, including the presence of some councilmembers.
However, most councilmembers attended two separate sessions of a non-quorum workshop hosted by the city’s NAACP chapter on the following day Sunday, July 19th – two days before Bove’s deadline.
Lucille Mallard, the president of the NAACP shared that her organization had not submitted any considerations for the PAB legislation to Bove prior to that Tuesday.
“We have not made any comments to the city attorney,” Mallard told FingerLakes1.com.
Bove listed the NAACP as well as the Geneva Police Department as other stakeholders that he needed to consult aside from Peoples Peaceful Protests before drafting the local law.
In the case of the NAACP, the organization did not offer any feedback beforehand ahead of his informal deadline, which he had set for himself.
Mallard admitted that although she was unaware of the unfolding situation surrounding the absent local law, she explained that this error is just one reason why the police accountability board process should have been slowed down.
“This is the reason we were saying we needed more time. Time was a factor. This is exactly why we said not to rush it,” Mallard emphasized.
With only being nine days away from the pre-scheduled August meeting, the prospects of the looming public hearing are still uncertain.
The path forward for Geneva’s City Council to proceed remains unclear, especially now since the public hearing is no longer addressing any local law on the table based on Bove’s own assessment.
“Under the circumstances without a local law, it’s been designated by the City Council to be considered a public hearing. You could call it a public hearing, but if they then after their public hearing adapted their local law it would be fully defective,” Bove expressed.
However, Fryer speaking on behalf of the Peoples Peaceful Protests still plans on prepping for the public hearing as if the local law had been officially formalized, only after complying with Bove’s request for the final draft of their local law for public consideration.
“We are looking forward to a public hearing and vote on the drafted legislation which is thoughtful, thorough, and responsive to all facets of the community. While some Councilors spoke about the need to engage the community in this conversation, they did not convene any meetings to do so, but we did. Our efforts are reflected in the document as written and we look forward to its passage,” Fryer expressed to FingerLakes1.com in a written statement.
At the same time, however, Fryer also begs the question as to what Bove has accomplished since their July meeting, claiming that “unpaid” community activists and organizers created comprehensive legislation on their own time since then – solely in the absence of any city government staff or personnel.
“What has the City Attorney been doing all month since the July 1st meeting? Within that time, unpaid members of the community have been able to put our heads together, reach out to stakeholders and draft legislation generally supported by experts that have reviewed it,” Fryer further added.
Ultimately, Bove believes that he should not have acted in any other fashion until he explicitly heard from the Geneva City Council itself in some formal capacity, and still stands by this position at this time.
“The City Council tells me what to do. That’s the bottom line. It’s our assistance with the city manager to make sure that what they do is done according to the Municipal Home Rule Law,” Bove insisted.
In response to unearthing this massive development, FingerLakes1.com contacted the entire Geneva City Council, including: Ward 1 City Councilor Tom Burrall, Ward 2 City Councilor Bill Pealer Jr., Ward 3 City Councilor Jan Regan, Ward 4 City Councilor Ken Camera, Ward 5 City Councilor Laura Salamendra, Ward 6 John Pruett, At-Large City Councilor Anthony Noone, At-Large City Councilor Frank Gaglianese III, Mayor Steve Valentino, as well as City Manager Sage Gerling for any comments.
All but one did not respond to the request – except for Regan who shared her perspective on the current situation, suggesting that today “will be a big day,” which is in reference to the shrinking timeline needed for a local law to be considered for a vote ahead of the August 5th date.
“While we were of course that no local law was attached to the resolution to establish a public hearing, we expected the local law to be prepared over the course of the month. The City Attorney sent us drafts of potential local laws, and referred us to several laws in effect in other cities. He also sent a questionnaire to help us provide him direction in the crafting of Geneva’s own local law. Many of us commented on material he sent our way, and I believe most answered the questionnaire. Only the PPP who actually came through with a full-on proposed local law, though. We are working to make the public hearing what we voted for, rather than a public forum. There is timing involved here, as a local law needs to be in the hands of Council at least seven days (excluding a Sunday) before a vote can be considered. And a local law needs to be on the table for a public hearing to take place. Tomorrow, seven days, minus Sunday, before the proposed public hearing, will be a big day,” Regan commented.
Aside from Regan, Adam Fryer responded on behalf of the Peoples Peaceful Protests with the following statement:
““When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something.” – John Lewis
In mid-June, the Peoples Peaceful Protest (PPP) sent a draft proposal for a Local Law to create a Police Accountability Board (PAB) to Geneva City Councilors (GCCs), as well as a Resolution establishing a Public Hearing to discuss said PAB. On July 1, the majority of GCCs voted in favor of the Resolution to hold a Public Hearing and set a date for Aug 5th, from 5pm-7:00pm, before their normally scheduled monthly CC meeting. A Public Hearing is required before a Public Law can be called to a vote.
That Saturday following the July 1st City Council Meeting, Geneva City Attorney, Emil J. Bove Jr., Esq., contacted a representative of the PPP and stated he would be creating a local law for the Aug 5th hearing and would use our drafted proposal submitted in mid-June as our feedback for the local law. Mr. Bove stated he would be drafting proposals for both a PAB and Civilian Review Board, which representatives from the PPP stated we strongly were not in favor of. During this conversation, PPP representatives made it very clear we would be working on our own version of the local law and would make ourselves available for feedback to any city official. It was also stated by Mr. Bove during this conversation that feedback and proposals would have to be submitted by July 21st to the City to be considered for the hearing.
On July 18, most GCCs attended an educational forum hosted by Hobart and William Smith Colleges (HWS), which had panels consisting of experts on police accountability & statistics from the Geneva and Rochester community, and members of the NAACP (Sydney Moore & Lucile Mallard). All the panelists, including the NAACP, expressed support for the PPPs legislation and encouraged the city to vote to create a Police Accountability Board.
Throughout July, representatives of the PPP reached out to community members & stakeholders to receive feedback for our proposal, including the NAACP. The PPP hosted several speakers and educational events and marches to keep the community engaged in the discussion of Police Accountability. Representatives of the PPP spoke directly with the majority of GCCs and were told that they generally liked our proposal and would vote “YES” for it. Representatives of the PPP also received occasional updates from the City Attorney on his progress with his version of the local law, and we provided our feedback.
On July 21, The PPP submitted our proposal to the City of Geneva with the intention to have a comparison to the Cities version, in case theirs turned out to resemble a Civilian Review Board or have little to no oversight power. We were told the City Attorney would “take it under consideration”. We replied it is not up to the City Attorney to have our proposal “considered”. The City attorney replied that it is up to city council to put our proposal on the agenda and that the City Attorney is responsible for “preparing” the document, and would not explain what that term meant.
On Friday July 24, Councilor Salamendra stepped up and sponsored our proposal for a Local Law to be on the agenda to be discussed at the Public Hearing. Soon after, PPP representatives confirmed that there are discussions among the city and GCCs to postpone or cancel the Public Hearing established by a Resolution they voted for at the last CC Meeting. There was also discussion of whether multiple proposals can be considered at a Public Hearing…we checked our City Charter, and nowhere does it say multiple versions of the law can’t be considered.
In the Geneva City Charter, under section 7.5 CITY ATTORNEY; POWERS AND DUTIES, “The City Attorney shall prepare all local laws, ordinances, and resolutions, contracts, deeds and other instruments for the City except in such instances where special council has been retained to perform such duties and as otherwise provided by the Local Finance Law.” Our City charter does not say the City Attorney shall prepare the laws or ordinances or resolutions BEFORE they’re voted on. If they had meant that, they would have written that, but they didn’t. And if that’s what they’re claiming then every time a city councilor proposes any resolution it needs to be drafted by the City Attorney, by their own definition that they’re giving us now. We feel the City Attorney and City Manager are arbitrarily picking when the City Attorney drafts a law, as a last-ditch effort to stall this process or in fear that the PPP’s proposal for the PAB with teeth would be on the table.
What has the City Attorney been doing all month since the July 1st meeting? Within that time, unpaid members of the community have been able to put our heads together, reach out to stakeholders and draft legislation generally supported by experts that have reviewed it.
As of the late evening hours of July 27th, multiple GCCs confirmed through call and text message to PPP representatives that a majority of GCCs (5) have agreed to move forward with the Aug 5th Public Hearing, with the proposals present by the deadline of Tuesday 7/28, which would include the PPP’s proposal.
The PPP is deeply troubled by the Cities lack of transparency, leadership or consistency with its own City Charter. The PPP would like to know how City Council will hold the City Attorney accountable for not producing the local law as directed by the Resolution passed at the July 1st meeting in order to hold a Public Hearing. The PPP would like the public to see all the work the City Attorney has done over the course of the period pertaining to drafting a local law for a PAB. The PPP demands the city uphold their obligation to the ratified resolution to hold that Public Hearing set for Aug 5th and have the PPP’s proposal on the table as at least one of the options for the discussion. And lastly, the PPP wants to see City Council vote “Yes” on a PAB that has TEETH: Independent from Geneva Police Department, can conduct independent investigations, has subpoena power, has the power to discipline to the extent of NYS law, and can review policies & body cam footage & provide recommendations for revisions.
We will continue to educate the community and councilors on the process, and we will continue to hold our public servants accountable as involved citizens should. We hope City Council Members and Community Members on all sides of this issue attend our events and continue to engage in this dialogue because it is truly the issue of our time.
“I believe that you see something that you want to get done, you cannot give up, and you cannot give in.” – John Lewis.””