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Home » News » Municipal » Geneva City Council reaches agreement on PAB, disciplinary process

Geneva City Council reaches agreement on PAB, disciplinary process

The Geneva City Council held its third Police Accountability Board (PAB) meeting of the week on Thursday, September 3rd. The focus of meeting was the proposed PAB’s disciplinary authority. The Council also discussed the PAB’s composition and how police complaints would be received by the City.

This was one of the most productive and amicable meetings this Council has had in a long time. However, the Council’s divisions and dysfunctionality once again showed through towards the end of the proceedings.

Mayor Steve Valentino started the proceedings by asking each Councilor to explain how they thought the disciplinary authority of the PAB should work.

Councilor William Pealer (Ward 2) thought that the PAB should be able to endorse or oppose the results of complaint investigations conducted by the Geneva Police Department (GPD). However, he also thought that if giving the PAB disciplinary authority would put the City in legal jeopardy, then it should not be done.

Councilor John Pruett (Ward 6) suggested that the PAB could either agree or disagree with the GPD Chief’s recommendation and any dispute would be resolved by the City Council. Pealer questioned whether this would also run afoul of the police union contracts. Pruett clarified that he sees the Council’s review as being more of a recommendation to the Chief than a mandate. His thought was that if the Chief did not follow the recommendation then it would become a personnel issue between the Chief and City Manager.

Councilor Ken Camera (Ward 4) agreed that it makes sense that if the Chief was not following discipline recommendations regularly then it would be up to the City Manager to correct the situation. He also thought that if the City Manager failed to take the appropriate action, then it would be up to the Council to potentially remove the City Manager.

Councilor Tom Burrall (Ward 1) stated that he has been advised by an attorney that the best way to make a PAB discipline process work is to negotiate a discipline matrix into the collective bargaining agreement with the police officers’ union. Burrall wanted to avoid subjectivity in the discipline to be handed out for violations. He wanted a completely objective discipline matrix and wanted zero exposure to legal liability. Burrall also believed that having a discipline matrix would protect officers by ensuring consistent discipline across the board.

Councilor Jan Regan (Ward 3) thought that the PAB would develop the discipline matrix. Pealer agreed with Regan’s belief. The consensus was that the Council would define that they wanted a discipline matrix used and then the PAB, the GPD Chief, and the City Manager would then develop the matrix. Pealer suggested that the police unions should be invited to be involved in the matrix development process and that the City should have some advance discussions with the unions to get their level of buy-in on a matrix concept.

Councilor Laura Salamendra wanted the Council to go with a discipline process that was as close as possible to what appeared in the original PAB proposal. Salamendra specifically recommended removing the provision that the Chief could only impose more discipline because she had been advised that this provision is legally problematic because it implies that the Chief could not impose less discipline. She believed this alteration would help overcome any legal hurdles. Councilor Frank Gaglianese III (At-Large) asked for clarification on Salamendra’s comments. City Attorney Emil Bove, Jr. confirmed Salamendra’s interpretation, which satisfied Gaglianese’s concerns.

Regan Reiterated the idea that the GPD would conduct the investigations with the PAB reviewing those investigations and making a recommendation to the GPD Chief on the discipline to be imposed for misconduct. She then thought the GPD Chief would then select and impose the discipline and would respond in writing to the PAB’s recommendations. Regan believed that accountability would be created because the Chief’s decision-making process on discipline would be public and available for review. She also believed that this process would provide the ability to see the patterns that develop in the Chief’s discipline decisions.

Valentino saw the PAB as being a review entity as a check and balance on the Chief and GPD’s disciplinary investigations.

The Council reached a consensus that a disciplinary matrix should be used and that the PAB would follow the linear investigation model discussed at the Council’s September 1, 2020 work session and then make only recommendations to the Chief and GPD regarding discipline. The Council also reached a consensus that the Chief would then be responsible for selecting the ultimate discipline to be imposed, but would be required to respond in writing to the PAB’s discipline recommendations.

After discussing the discipline issue, the Council moved on to discussing the desired composition of the PAB and how PAB members would be appointed. The Council concurred that everyone wanted diverse and qualified representatives on the PAB. The Council also concurred that members should be a resident of the City of Geneva and that residents of the Town of Geneva should not be eligible for PAB membership. But given the limited time, the council could not quite come to an agreement on the details of exactly what representative groups the members should come from. Since the Council did not have enough time to work out the precise details on this issue, Valentino asked that each Counselor develop their preference on the PAB’s composition, members’ specific qualifications, and who the appointing authority would be. Valentino asked for Councilor’s to provide this information to him via email by Tuesday, September 8, 2020.

The Council next discussed how police complaints should be handled. It was with this discussion that the decorum and effectiveness of the Council began to break down.

Initially, Salamendra reiterated her belief that all complaints should go to the PAB. She felt this was important so that individuals who are fearful of retaliation could have a safe place in which to make complaints. In fact, because of the potential for harassment, Salamendra even stated that it would be her preference not to have the GPD involved in the complaints at all. Councilor Anthony Noone (At-Large) broke the meeting’s peace by challenging Salamendra’s position, stating that he thought if the GPD Chief wasn’t involved in complaint intake, the City would be left with a bunch of random citizens who watch Law and Order or NCIS who would have no expertise in handing out discipline to police officers. Noone further inflamed the situation by stating that people can “cry all they want” about unions but that they built this country and will be a part of the process. Noone went on to tell Salamendra and Regan that they should be ashamed as Democrats to be complaining about the police unions all the time. Regan and Salamendra both laughed at this statement, which further inflamed Noone. Noone and Regan battled over whether or not Salamendra or anyone else was saying that the Chief and GPD should not be involved in the process. At one point Salamendra, while acknowledging that she had said she would prefer the Chief not receive the complaints but also saying that the Chief could impose his own discipline, told Noone that she was really disappointed at his behavior and that if he wasn’t going to really listen to people’s full statements he should keep his call-outs to himself. Salamendra also felt that Noone was more concerned with lawsuits than the people who were being abused by the police. As Valentino was trying to call order, Noone, appearing to be sarcastic, replied “your right your right”.

Ultimately when the situation calmed, it was determined that most agreed with the concept that there should be a safe place for people to make complaints. During the discussion, Camera clarified that complainants should be able to elect to go through any venue they selected to make a complaint but that the PAB potentially offered a unique opportunity for those who are fearful of harassment or retaliation He gave an example of how a person could make a complaint at the PAB because they are afraid of the GPD. The PAB would take the complaint and explain the process, including complainant identification confidentiality rules and the fact that the complaint would have to go to the GPD, to the complainant who could then make an informed decision in a safe non-threatening environment regarding whether or not they wished to proceed with the complaint.

Valentino viewed the consensus agreement as being that complaints can come in via multiple venues with the PAB intake being an option for anyone, but especially those who feel unsafe with making complaints through other venues. Valentino also believed that there was a consensus that regardless of whether the complaint is taken by the GPD or the PAB, there should be a requirement to share it with the other entity within a set mandated time frame.

As the meeting wrapped up, Valentino asked Gerling and Bove if they now had enough direction to redraft the proposed law, including a layman’s version to explain the legal terminology used. It was at this point that the Council’s dysfunction truly showed through.

The Council could not come to an agreement on how the next steps should unfold. Bove was concerned about the Council’s concerns with his previous handling of the issue. Some Councilor’s wanted the involvement of a separate attorney who had volunteered to assist. Camera felt that the second attorney was needed to provide “more horse-power” to the effort to ensure that the proposed public law was redrafted in a timely manner. In fact, Camera became frustrated at one point that he could not seem to get the importance of this need across to some of the Council. This eventually caused an argument between Pealer and Camera because Pealer thought there was going to be an expense for the second attorney despite the fact that Camera had made it quite clear that the second attorney was offering his services free. In addition, Pealer was concerned that without having the second attorney paid or on record as working for the City, there would be no accountability. Bove finally resolved the situation by telling Pealer that he was making it more complicated than it is.

Valentino ended-up directing Gerling and Bove to coordinate the redrafting of the proposed public law, giving them the authority to include anyone in the process they deemed necessary. Valentino concluded the meeting by tentatively,  subject to the completion of the redraft,  scheduling a City Council meeting for September 10, 2020, at 7:30 to review the document for the public hearing.