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Home » Lake Ontario » Divided Geneva City Council struggles with PAB law at another meeting on topic of policing

Divided Geneva City Council struggles with PAB law at another meeting on topic of policing

The Geneva City Council met Thursday in an attempt to finish redrafting the proposed public law that would establish a Police Accountability Board (PAB). Despite having seven sections of the proposed law to review, and a desire by some Councilors to revisit previously edited sections, the Council only managed to address sections 15-7, 15-8, and 15-9 of the law. The meeting, as is becoming common for the Council, was extremely contentious.

Section 15-7 of the proposed law addressed how PAB complaints would be initiated. Although there were no new arguments on this issue, the Council spent nearly half of its meeting debating this topic.

Some Councilors, along with the police officers union, opposed anonymous complaints and wanted a requirement that those filing complaints sign the documents under penalty of perjury. Those arguing in support of prohibiting anonymous complaints and requiring signatures seemed to feel that this approach would help avoid frivolous complaints. While those opposed felt that requiring a person filing a complaint to be identified would deter legitimate complaints because of the fear of retaliation by police officers.

Councilor Laura Salamendra (Ward 5) moved to have the requirement for a signature struck from the law entirely. Salamendra’s motion passed on a split 5-4 vote. However, the issue was not settled because some Councilors were concerned that, as amended, the law had no mechanism for screening out frivolous complaints.

What followed was an extremely contentious and confused discussion. At one point, Councilor John Pruett (Ward 6) wanted a check box on the intake form as a ministerial method of ensuring that the party who had taken the complaint recorded the information correctly. Other Councilors wanted a more stringent control on evaluating the validity of complaints to avoid those that were frivolous. While Salamendra in particular felt that there was absolutely no need to have any initial review of a complaint’s validity as she felt that would be worked out in the PAB review and investigation process.

One proposal that was considered was accepting a complaint if it was signed by the Complainant or a PAB member deemed it to have some merit. Salamendra was extremely concerned that giving any single PAB member the ability to on their own to reject a complaint. Salamendra feared this would lead to a situation where a single member of the Board could regularly reject complaints, not on merit but on bias against complainants or in favor of the police. Other Councilors tried to counter that if this happened, there was nothing in the law that prevented a person filing the complaint from taking their complaint to another member of the PAB.

Salamendra was adamant that the entire PAB should be responsible for reviewing the validity of complaints through its investigation process. When asked to point out where in the proposed law it said that the entire PAB would be responsible for reviewing the validity of complaints, she responded “the whole shebang” is about the PAB determining the validity of complaints through the investigation process. Salamendra was extremely concerned that some Councilors seemed far more concerned with screening out frivolous complaints than ensuring receipt of legitimate complaints. At one point the conversations became so testy that Salamendra laid back on her couch in what appeared to be disgust at the proceedings.

Ultimately, the Council reversed course on Salamendra’s original motion to strike the signature requirement. On a split 5-4 vote, the Council inserted language stating that the PAB’s formal complaint procedures would not commence until either a PAB member confirms receipt of a complaint or a complaint is signed by the Complainant. Under this language, anonymous complaints appear to still be permitted so long as a PAB member “acknowledges” receipt of the complaint.

Throughout the debate on the complaint, neither the Council nor the Council’s attorney Emil Bove, Jr. seemed to ever consider the potential for liability if a single member of the PAB rejects a complaint that ultimately turns out to be legitimate. The Council also did not appear to consider the ramifications of rejecting a complaint of serious misconduct under circumstances where the person lodging the complaint via phone, letter, etc. refuses to identify themselves.

In addition, toward the end of the discussion on Section 15-7, Councilor Tom Burrall (Ward 1) asked whether the Council should consider Bove’s recommendation for inserting a Statute of Limitations on how much time can elapse between an incident and filing of a complaint. Despite the PAB being under consideration for months, Bove stated that he did not yet have the language available for this proposal and did not feel comfortable recommending language on the spot. Bove indicated that he would have the proposed language for a Statute of Limitations provision available at the Council’s next meeting.

In between contentious debates, the Council made non-controversial minor grammatical and conforming changes to Section 15-8 of the law, which addressed the Geneva Police Department’s procedures for investigating PAB complaints.

The Council next considered Section 15-9 of the proposed law, which addressed the PAB procedures for investigating complaints against Geneva Police Department officers. Councilor Ken Camera (Ward 4) opened the proceedings on Section 15-9 by moving to accept Gibson & Dunn’s recommended changes. This motion passed without controversy.

Councilor Anthony Noone (At-Large) moved to strike Section 15-9’s provision requiring that the Geneva Police Chief wait for the results of the PAB’s investigation before imposing discipline. The debate on this issue was extremely controversial and eventually completely destroyed the Council’s decorum.

Noone, Councilor William Pealer (Ward 2) and Frank Gaglianese (At-Large), who have for the most part have opposed, the PAB took a new approach by arguing that the language in Section 15-9 that required the Chief to wait for a PAB investigation before imposing discipline, inappropriately tied the Chief’s hands in situations where he would want to impose discipline immediately because of the severity of an offense. Mayor Steve Valentino and Bove clarified that they thought the Chief had the authority to impose discipline immediately in appropriate circumstances because Section 15-9 stated that the Chief could impose discipline before a PAB decision was received if required by law or exceptional circumstances. This argument did not satisfy those who were concerned that current requirements still tied the Chief’s hands and were inconsistent with existing laws and union contracts. Ultimately, Noone’s motion passed on a split vote.

However, this did not resolve the issue. Rather the discussion deteriorated into shouting over one another because Salamendra and Councilor Jan Regan (Ward 3) thought the amendment had “broke the PAB”. They contended that the Chief no longer had to pay any attention to PAB decisions.

Salamendra moved to reinsert the original language with the modification that it would specifically identify the Chief as having the authority to determine if discipline should be imposed early because of law or exceptional circumstances. Pealer complained that Salamendra’s proposal was just “feel-good mumbo jumbo”. Camera thought the Chief should have some ability to make early decisions when circumstances warranted but also felt that the Council had made a serious mistake by eliminating the requirement that the Chief wait on PAB recommendations before imposing discipline in most circumstances.

At this point, the meeting totally deteriorated when Valentino attempted to explain that he thought there were some inaccurate assumptions being made regarding the Chief being unwilling to wait on PAB decisions before imposing discipline but was interrupted by Camera. Valentino angrily called Camera out of order for the interruption and yelled that he should wait and raise his hand to be recognized and asked “how many times do you have to be told that.”  Valentino concluded by stating that he thought it was a disservice to the Chief that people thought he would not wait for the recommendations of a duly appointed board.

Regan countered that it was important to prepare for all potential circumstances, particularly the potential for a future chief not being as responsive as Chief Passalacqua. Gaglianese argued that it was not smart for the Council to ignore the Union’s concerns and the potential for them to sue the City.

Camera moved to amend Salamendra’s motion to permit the Chief to consider General Orders in addition to law and exceptional circumstances when determining if discipline should be imposed before a PAB decision. During the vote on Camera’s amendment, the Council was extremely confused about what was happening. Valentino had to stop the vote to explain the procedure and the amendment. Valentino was extremely frustrated that people did not seem to be paying attention. The amendment was eventually approved on a split vote. Following the amendment vote, the Council voted on Salamendra’s amended motion, which the Council also approved on a split vote with Noone, Gaglianese, Pealer, and Valentino voting no.

Consequently, the Council ended up reversing the original motion presented by Noone eliminating the requirement that the Chief wait for a PAB decision before imposing discipline, replacing it with Salamendra’s motion requiring the Chief to wait for a PAB decision before imposing discipline, unless the Chief determines that discipline should be imposed immediately because of law, General Orders, or exceptional circumstances.

Once this debate concluded Mayor Valentino attempted to move on to Section 15-10, but Salamendra moved to adjourn since the meeting had already run the scheduled two hours. Over Valentino’s objection, a majority of the Council voted to adjourn. Valentino ended the meeting before the Clerk even announced the adjournment vote results. Valentino stated that another meeting would be scheduled where the Council would resume with Section 15-10 of the proposed law.