Mayor Valentino Ignores Councilors’ Motions to Amend PAB Law As Not Specific Enough
The Geneva City Council met via Zoom Thursday, November 12th to complete its review of recommended changes to the proposed Police Accountability Board (PAB) Public Law. The City’s website indicated that the meeting was scheduled to begin at 6:00 P.M., but it was actually started at 5:30 P.M.
City Manager Sage Gerling and City Clerk Lori Guinan stated that the incorrect meeting time was released to the public by mistake and that they would make sure that this type of mistake did not occur again.
Mayor Steve Valentino opened the meeting by asking City Attorney Emil Bove, Jr. to discuss a proposal to establish a time requirement for filing PAB complaints. Bove presented language to the Council that proposed a 180-day complaint filing deadline. Bove contended that this requirement would be consistent with the 180-day requirement for imposing discipline on police officers that existed in State law and Contracts. Bove’s language included a statement that the Geneva Police Department’s (GPD) determination of whether or not a complaint was timely filed could not be reviewed by the PAB. The Council ended-up approving the 180-day complaint filing limitation. However, the Council rejected Bove’s recommended language prohibiting the PAB to review a GPD complaint timeliness determinations because the Council felt it was important to have a back and forth discussion between the PAB and GPD on disputed timeliness issues. The timeliness provision was eventually inserted as a new Section 15-7.10 of the law. However, Bove showed confusion several times regarding where this provision should go in the law.
The complaint timeliness issue was a holdover from the Council’s prior PAB work session. Once the discussion moved into new business, the vast majority of changes made by the Council were minor ones made for conformity and grammar. However, the Council ran into trouble when addressing Section 15-13 of the Public Law, which addressed the proposed PAB’s review of GPD policies and procedures.
Initially, Councilor Laura Salamendra (Ward 5) moved to adopt clarifying amendments offered by the law firm Gibson & Dunn. Councilor Ken Camera (Ward 4) was concerned that the PAB should not be tasked with reviewing GPD policies and procedures annually. Camera felt that the annual review would eventually become onerous given the other responsibilities of the PAB. Councilor Jan Regan (Ward 3) concurred with Camera’s concerns and thought language allowing the PAB to review GPD policies and procedures as it deemed appropriate would be better. However, no one moved to adjust the language at this point. Salamendra responded that the Council should not be deciding what the PAB was or was not capable of doing. The Council approved the Gibson & Dunn recommendations on a 7-2 vote.
Camera then moved to eliminate Subsections 1, 2, and 3 from Section 15-13 of the proposed PAB Public Law. These sections called for the PAB to annually review GPD policies and procedures, permitted the PAB to make a recommendation to the GPD regarding a discipline matrix to be used in disciplining GPD officers, and provided for the PAB to have regular and unrestricted access to body camera footage.
The most controversial issue of the night was the proposed elimination of the PAB’s unlimited access to the GPD’s bodycam footage. Bove opened the discussion by indicating that the provision providing the PAB with unrestricted access was onerous to the GPD’s operations. Bove continued to interject his personal opinions on the matter by stating that he thought the Department’s concerns regarding the PAB’s proposed access to bodycam footage were justified.
Bove went on to argue that the GPD would have to regularly redact bodycam footage to exclude individuals not involved in the incident. Bove cited privacy concerns but never gave any legal citations for his concerns. Bove seemed to ignore the fact that incidents with the police in public spaces would unlikely have to be redacted because Courts have typically held that there is no expectation of privacy in public spaces. In addition, Bove argued that the PAB would not legally have any greater access to GPD bodycam footage than does the general public. Bove seemed to ignore the trend towards making police bodycam footage available for public inspection. Finger1akes1.com has reached out to the City of Geneva for clarification on Bove’s position but had not received a response when this article was published.
The Councill was split on whether the PAB should have access to GPD bodycam footage for review of policy issues. Some felt that the PAB should only have access to bodycam footage for the evaluation of specifically identified incidents related to PAB complaints only, but thought that unrestricted access was onerous. Others, particularly Salamendra, contended that allowing the PAB to access bodycam footage as they saw fit is important to GPD accountability. Salamendra specifically stated that she did not believe it was appropriate for only the GPD Chief to have access to the bodycam footage.
The Council eventually passed Camera’s motion on a split vote, thus removing Subsections 1, 2, and 3 of Section 15-13 from the proposed law.
Councilor William Pealer (Ward 2) then moved to amend the proposed law to permit the PAB to have access to bodycam footage as it related to specific cases. In a strange turn, this motion failed with even Pealer voting voting against it because after discussion he felt it should be in a different section of the law. But no one moved to insert a similar provision in a different part of the law.
At several times during the discussion, Regan and Salamendra attempted to move an amendment that would have read something along the lines of “Subject to confidentiality laws and regulations, the PAB upon a majority vote may request GPD Bodycam footage in order to investigate specific complaints, or because of patterns of behavior that have policy implications”. There were several versions of this motion presented, all of which Mayor Valentino appeared to ignore. In an email response to a Fingerlakes1.com’s inquiry, Valentino stated, “I did not deny any councilor from making a motion. I requested clarity of the motion. Following the rules of procedure and aligning with the charter is and will continue to be the basis of conducting our meetings.” Valentino specifically clarified that he did not accept Regan and Salamendra’s motions because the motions did not identify where the where proposed language would be inserted into the law. Valentino also stated that he thought Salamendra was going to rewrite her proposal to be more specific, but that she did not ever come back to the Council with that rewritten language.
At one point, Camera also interrupted Salmendra’s attempt to make a motion because he wanted further discussion before any motion was made. Camera felt that the Council could save time by coming to a consensus on motion language before the motion was made, rather than having Councilors continue to amend motion language on the fly. Valentino in his email response to Fingerlakes1.com concurred with Camera’s approach.
The last major decision of the evening was a motion brought by Camera to amend the new first Subsection of Section 15-13 to read “From time to time the PAB shall send its policy recommendations to the GPD Chief, the City Manager, and the City Council, including any recommendations related to procedures, patterns, practices, evidence, and disciplinary matrix.” Ultimately, the word “shall” was changed to “may” Pealer objected to Camera’s use of “pattern”. He did not think the PAB were going to be detectives trying to solve crimes and wanted to limit the PAB’s functions to complaint investigations. Despite this objection, Camera’s motion passed.
The Council concluded the evening by tentatively scheduling another PAB work session for Thursday, November 19th, 2020 at 6:30 P.M. At this meeting, the Council will review the entire amended PAB Public Law as redrafted by Bove. Valentino also clarified that at the next meeting, Councilors will still have the opportunity to revisit the law and make further changes if they wish. In addition, Valentino also stated that the Council’s final version of the law would go to a second public hearing giving the public the opportunity to comment on it.