The Geneva City Council held its regular monthly meeting Wednesday with seven-of-the-nine council members attending in person. Mayor Steve Valentino, who continues to quarantine following out of state travel, and Laura Salamendra (Ward 5) attended the meeting via Zoom Conference Call.
The session opened with Valentino reading a proclamation proclaiming November 1, 2020, Extra Mile Day in Geneva. The proclamation urged each individual in the community to take the time to “go the extra mile” in his or her own life, and to acknowledge all those who are inspirational in their efforts to make organizations, families, community, country, and the world a better place. The proclamation also recognized Genevans Henry Farro, Jacob Rivera, and Jeff Cahoon for their efforts to improve the City of Geneva.
The Council also held two public hearings Wednesday. First was a public hearing on the sale of City-owned property located at 8 One Mile Point. There was no public comment presented at this hearing.
The Council also held a public hearing on the 2021 proposed budget. One Genevan testified via Zoom at this hearing and two presented written comments to the Council. One Genevan pointed out that only 3% of the City’s budget goes towards social services programs. She called on the Council to revisit the budget and redistribute funding to social services programs as a preventative measure. Another Genevan stated that the Council should not freeze City employee salaries when the City Manager and City Comptroller were receiving 3% raises. Finally, a third Genevan argued against the proposed marina expansion project. He asserted that, although there might be a need for some extra boat slips near the Ramada, he simply did not see a need for the proposed marina at the North end of the Lake and did not believe that the area would support the project economically.
During the budget public hearing, in comments unrelated to the budget, a Genevan accused an unnamed Councilor of hiding behind COVID-19 to not pay rent and indicated that Genevans would petition the Council for a referendum on the Police Accountability Board (PAB) proposal.
During the Council’s public comment period approximately 25 residents spoke. The majority of comments once again focused on the PAB proposal and the Council’s conduct.
Those supporting the PAB expressed concerns regarding the changes the Council made to the proposed law on Tuesday, October 6, 2020, to permit more than one retired police officer to serve on the PAB if circumstances warranted and to require that PAB members attend the Citizens Police Academy. Many felt that these new provisions would weaken the independence of the PAB. Commenters were also concerned that the Citizens Police Academy has typically required 100% attendance and has required that participants not have any criminal convictions.
Those opposed to the PAB continued to argue that the proposal is nothing more than a stepping stone towards defunding the police. Opponents also remained concerned that the Council appeared to have no idea how much operating the PAB would cost. Other residents remained concerned that the PAB would become a tool to seek retribution against police officers.
Opponents of the PAB also began taking a new approach by calling on the Council to put the proposal out for a public referendum.
Some residents also called for alternative approaches for addressing the divide between the police department and citizens, such as improved mental health intervention training for officers and additional community events with officers.
Finally, many residents on both sides of the PAB issue remained concerned about the conduct of Councilors. Some still called for Councilor Frank Gaglianese’s (At-Large) resignation. Others called out what they characterized as the sexist behavior of male members of the Council, and others called out what they saw as inappropriate behavior by councilmembers during meetings and at other public events.
During the business portion of the meeting, the Council passed four resolutions.
First, the Council considered resolution 53-2020 to adopt a City of Geneva Body Camera Task Force policy. Councilor Anthony Noone (At-Large) indicated that the policy had been modified to ensure that City representatives on the task force had no voting powers. Noone also stated that the task force would be a temporary entity with the sole purpose of evaluating the Police Department’s Body Camera Policy. After the task force evaluates the policy, they would make any recommendations to the Chief and Council regarding any needed changes. Councilor Jan Regan (Ward 3), based on public comments, moved to amend the resolution and policy to ensure that all vacancies on the task force were publicly advertised. Both Regan’s amendment and the Resolution as amended were approved.
The Council also considered Resolution 54-2020 to adopt the City of Geneva Police Budget Advisory Board By-Laws. Noone indicated that the City representatives on this Board would also not have any voting powers. Noone indicated that the Board would be a permanent entity and would annually review and make recommendations regarding the Police Department’s budget. Regan moved that the resolution and by-laws be amended to ensure that all Board vacancies were publicly advertised and to require the Chief of Police/the Geneva Police Department to respond in writing to the Board’s budget recommendations. Regan’s amendments and the Resolution as amended were approved.
The Council also considered Resolution 55-2020 to schedule a public hearing to consider a local law to override the State of New York’s property tax cap. Assistant City Manager Adam Blowers indicated that New York caps property taxes at a 2% rate. However, individual communities can elect to pass a local law by a 2/3 majority vote to override that tax cap. Blowers also stated that typically the City of Geneva overrides the tax cap as an insurance policy to make sure the City is not subject to penalties for exceeding the cap. However, Blowers also said that the City did not appear to have ever exceeded the cap. However, Blowers indicated that this year because of the recent reassessment that increased the assessed value of much of Geneva’s real estate, Geneva would definitely exceed the State mandated property tax cap. Consequently, Blowers indicated that the City either had to pass the local law to override the cap, be subject to penalties for exceeding the cap, or cut roughly $600,000 from the 2021 budget in order to lower the property tax to a level that would be below the tax cap. The Resolution to set the public hearing for October 21, 2020, at 5:30 P.M. was approved unanimously. However, Counselors expressed concerns about exceeding the tax cap and Councilor Ken Camera (Ward 4) at one point went as far as to state that he would be proposing budget cuts totaling roughly $600,000 to get the City under the tax cap.
The Council’s final action of the night was to consider Resolution 56-2020 adopting the City’s Records Retention and Disposition Schedule. City Clerk Lori Guinan indicated that this was a routine action the Council takes annually. She further indicated that this action is mandated by the State of New York, and if the Council did not adopt the schedule the City would not be able to dispose of any records. Resolution 56-2020 was approved unanimously.
The meeting concluded with Councilor reports, which were shortened due to the late hour and the pending discontinuation of Finger Lakes Television coverage of the meeting. Of note, Councilor William Pealer (Ward 2) indicated that he would be sponsoring a resolution to either suspend or limit the authority of the Geneva City Ethics Board because they had been operating outside of the scope of the City Charter by making recommended punishments for Councilors who the Board had deemed had violated ethics rules. Councilors were surprised to learn that the ethics Board is supposed to only consider ethics complaints against Councilors that the Council itself refers to the Board. Valentino indicated that a resolution may not be necessary as he had been in discussions with the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the Ethics Board regarding this concern. Valentino indicated that the situation may be resolved with a joint work session between the Council and Ethics Board.
The Council was next scheduled to meet October 14, 2020, for a 2021 Budget work session.
Todd covers local government in the Finger Lakes. He has a JD degree the Lincoln Law School of Sacramento. Send tips to [email protected].