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Home » News » Municipal » Work session rambles, but City Council leans toward police accountability board in Geneva

Work session rambles, but City Council leans toward police accountability board in Geneva

Editor’s Note: Click here for coverage of all city council work sessions in Geneva this week

On Tuesday members of Geneva City Council held the second of the week’s three scheduled work sessions regarding the Police Accountability Board (PAB) proposal. The meeting was held via Zoom and broadcast via the City’s YouTube channel.

The meeting was scheduled to discuss the Investigative authority and composition of the proposed PAB. However, the discussion regarding the investigative authority of the PAB went so long that the Council did not get around to addressing the proposed composition of the PAB. The composition of the PAB was put off until the planned Council work session on September 3, 2020, at 5:30 P.M.

Tuesday’s meeting was yet another example of the Council for the most part continuing to spin its wheels on the PAB issue. The majority of the meeting was spent rehashing each Councilor’s established position on what should or should not be the investigatory authority of the proposed PAB.

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Mayor Steve Valentino attempted to guide the discussion and keep it on track by calling on each Councilor in succession to give a presentation on what they felt the investigatory authority of the PAB  should be. Councilors were then given the opportunity to ask the Councilor making his or her presentation clarifying questions. Despite Valentino’s efforts, the discussion was tense and impassioned and Councilor’s often strayed from asking clarifying questions into making their own arguments. There were also several instances, particularly between Councilor Laura Salamendra (Ward 5), William Pealer (Ward 2), and Frank Gaglianese (At-Large), where the discussion bordered on personal attacks. Salamendra was particularly impassioned in support of her position that the PAB should be completely independent without any Geneva Police Department (GPD) involvement. Salamendra called out Pealer and Gaglianese for previous statements that she felt indicated they thought there was no need for a PAB. Salamendra also verbally clashed with Councilor Noone (At Large) regarding issues involving the training of PAB members. Valentino occasionally had to call Councilors out of order and redirect discussions back to the issue being discussed.

The meeting was also Zoom Bombed late in the proceedings when an observer managed to unmute himself and repeatedly called on Gaglianese to resign.

The Council had three distinct visions of the proposed PAB’s investigatory authority. The first approach was that the PAB have completely independent investigatory authority to conduct its own independent investigations from receiving the complaint to reaching a conclusion. The second approach was for the GPD and the PAB to run separate but concurrent investigations. The third approach, which was characterized both as separate but linear and as investigating the investigation, was to have the GPD conduct the bulk of the complaint investigation with the PAB having the authority to review the GPD investigation and to fill in any gaps in GPD’s investigation with its own investigation of those gap issues.

Most concurred that the completely independent PAB was not a viable option for Geneva because of the cost of the PAB having an independent investigation operation. However, Salamendra argued that the PAB should be completely independent despite the cost because residents did not feel safe making complaints that would be investigated by the GPD. She further clarified that residents did not feel safe because they are harassed by the GPD when complaints are made. As an example, Salamendra referenced a situation where a retired GPD officer sat outside her house honking his car horn continuously because of a complaint she had made. Councilor Ken Camera (Ward 4) also countered the cost issue by pointing out that the City’s previous experience with boards, such as with the Ethics Board, had shown that applicants for Board positions often came with a background in place that doesn’t require any significant training.

The Council also disfavored the approach of the PAB and the GPD conducting separate parallel investigations. In addition to the concerns regarding cost, many saw this approach as a waste of duplicated resources, logistically difficult, and potentially intrusive to witnesses since they would be asked to answer questions and/or testify twice.

Camera initially introduced the idea of having what he termed as separate but linear investigations. Camera’s concept was that the GPD would initially conduct all complaint investigations and then forward their investigatory results to the PAB. The PAB would then review the GPD’s investigation and could conduct an independent investigation of any elements of the complaint that the Board felt the GPD either missed or did not do an adequate job of investigating. Salamendra reiterated her opposition to the GPD having anything to do with PAB complaint investigations and Councilor Jan Regan (Ward 3) expressed concern that an approach of investigating the investigation might lead to nothing more than a symbolic board.

Regan proposed an alternative Board structure that had not been previously considered. Regan proposed that the PAB consist of both members of the community and officers from the GPD. Her proposal was that this joint PAB would conduct complaint investigations independently. Regan stated that she had spoken with GPD Chief Michael Passalacqua regarding the idea and that Chief Passalacqua stated that he thought this type of proposal could work. Regan specifically asked City Attorney Emil Bove, Jr. if this type of joint PAB would be legal. Bove stated that as with most of the PAB proposals, the issue was not whether the proposals were legal under a statute, but rather if they would be deemed in compliance with the collective bargaining agreements with the police officers’ union.

Mayor Valentino rounded out the discussion of the investigatory authority of the proposed PAB by indicating that he had come to the conclusion, that why currently he believes that the existing process is working because the City has the right staff in the City Manager and Chief of Police positions, he could foresee where the process could break down badly if the wrong people were in those positions. Consequently, Valentino supported a PAB with some sort of investigatory or review authority. Valentino also stated that he was potentially changing his mind on the concept that the PAB should not consider anonymous complaints because of examples of how valid anonymous complaints could be received. In essence, Valentino did not initially see how an anonymous complaint could have enough information in it to permit an investigation, but after hearing the examples given, he could see how such a complaint could provide sufficient information to permit an investigation.

Valentino called for an informal poll of the Council to determine which investigation approach was the Council’s consensus choice. During this discussion, Pealer renewed his efforts to obtain a consensus that the Council would only go forward with a proposal that was legally sufficient and consistent with the City Attorney’s legal opinion. Pealer was not able to obtain this consensus, although many Councilors stated they preferred that approach if possible. In response to Valentino’s poll Councilor’s John Pruett (Ward 6), Tom Burral (Ward 1), Pealer, Camera, Gaglianese, and Valentino concurred that the preferred approach would be the separate but linear investigative model where the GPD would conduct initial investigations which would be reviewed by the PAB.

Valentino requested that Bove redraft the investigation section of the public law based on the Council’s preference for a separate but linear investigation model. However, Bove and City Manager Sage Gerling deferred stating that the Public Law should not be re-drafted until all of the areas of the proposal are hashed out by the Council because changes to one section will undoubtedly impact the other sections of the proposed law.

The Council adjourned the meeting without further action and Valentino indicated that the Council would take up the PAB’s membership structure, disciplinary authority, and funding at a work session scheduled for Thursday, September 3, 2020, at 5:30. Valentino also stated that he hoped to avoid discussion of the PAB issue at the Wednesday, September 2, 2020, regular Council meeting so that the Council could return to conducting regular business at that meeting.