On Monday Geneva City Council met in another 3-hour session to address the remaining issues involving the proposed Police Accountability Board. For the most part, the Council continued to rehash previously discussed sections of the law.
However, one major new proposal did come forward. Councilor Frank Gaglianese (At-Large) moved to change the name of the Board from the Police Accountability Board to the Civilian Review Board. Gaglianese felt that this title was more reflective of what the Board had become and thought that toning down the title would make it more palatable to some in the community. Councilor Laura Salamendra vehemently opposed the proposal. Salamendra (Ward 5) stated that she was “tired of people having to hear things in softer words” and didn’t want to change the name of the board simply to protect people’s feelings. Salamendra also stated that she thought that people who were offended by combining the words police and accountability “should just get over it”.
Councilor Tom Burrall (Ward 1) was concerned that removing the word police from the Board’s title would cause confusion because people might not understand the Board’s function. This caused Councilor William Pealer to offer an amendment to change the name from Civilian Review Board as proposed by Gaglianese’s original motion to Police Review Board (PRB). Ultimately, the amended motion passed with Councilor’s Jan Regan (Ward 3), Ken Camera (Ward 4), and Salamendra voting no.
Camera moved to modify the proposed law’s provisions regarding retaliation. His initial idea was to simplify the language. However, the proposal became confrontational when Camera was convinced to add back into his motion language that would prohibit retaliation against Geneva Police Department (GPD) employees. Salamendra objected stating that she thought the concept of retaliation against the police was a “made-up” problem. She went on to state that she thought police should not be given another mechanism for investigating complainants. Salamendra tried to amend the original motion to remove GPD employees from the retaliation provisions , but Mayor Steve Valentino would not allow the motion because the vote had already begun. The motion carried with only Camera and Salamendra voting no. Later in the meeting, Salamendra once again attempted to offer her motion to offer an amendment to remove GPD employees from the retaliation provisions, but this time Valentino denied her motion because she was not on the prevailing side of the original vote on the provision.
Regan next raised the issue of membership on the PRB. Regan specifically re-raised the issue of law enforcement members and their families being on the PRB. Initially, Regan pointed out that there had been procedural errors or mistakes made in approving changes to this section of the law that resulted in the draft law having incorrect language. Consequently, she moved to return the language of this section to its original form so that the Council could work with it appropriately. Regan’s motion passed with Councilors Anthony Noone (At-Large), Gaglianese, and Pealer voting no.
Regan moved to amend the law to clarify that the PRB would have no members who work for the GPD or other law enforcement agencies. Some thought Regan’s language was a little convoluted and ultimately Salamendra moved to amend Regan’s motion to accept language proposed by Burrall which simply read “The Board shall have no members who are current or former employees or immediate family members of any law enforcement agency.”
The arguments for and against this provision continued along the same lines as those put forth since the beginning of the PRB process. Some felt that it was unfair to exclude law enforcement members while others felt excluding law enforcement gives independence from the Board. Ultimately the amendment and overall motion passed on a split 5-4 vote with Pealer, Noone, Gaglianese, and Valentino voting no.
Valentino next moved to amend the PRB law to state that the PRB could only review GPD policy, procedures, and practices “based on information from complaint investigations.” Once the motion was made, there was no discussion on it. The motion passed with only Regan and Salamendra voting no.
Councilor John Pruett also proposed a motion to require the Mayor to appoint a member of the Council as a liaison to the PRB.
Salamendra stated that she opposed the idea because she was concerned that the Mayor would appoint a Council member that opposes the PRB. This set-off a dispute between Salamendra where she accused him of being anti-PRB even stating that his votes showed that he was anti-PRB. Valentino denied this claim stating that Salamendra was anti-police completely. Salamendra responded that Valentino was correct and that she was against policing as an institution “because all it does is haul off poor people to jail and ignore rich people who commit the same crimes.”
After the heated discussion between Salamendra and Valentino Pruett tried to retract his motion, but Pealer raised the issue that the motion couldn’t be retracted because it had already been Seconded. Even Valentino was confused as to whether the motion had been Seconded. City Clerk Lori Guinan clarified that the motion had been Seconded by Camera, despite Camera’s assertions that he did not intend to Second the motion. Ultimately Valentino ruled that the motion had to go forward. At which point Pealer offered an amendment to state that the Mayor “may” rather than “shall” appoint a liaison. The offered amendment was approved with only Salamendra voting no. Then the full motion was approved unanimously.
Pruett then moved to include a provision in the law that called for the PRB to track its expenses for the first twelve months and prepare a budget for approval in subsequent years. This motion carried unanimously.
Camera then moved to amend Section 15-11-8 of the law to state that the Chief has to explain his decision regarding discipline. He offered the amendment as simplifying the section’s language. However, after it was pointed out that the Chief wouldn’t have to explain his reasoning for reaching a discipline decision different than the PRB, Camera offered an amendment to add back in language that read “…including how it may differ from the PRB recommendation. Valentino asked at this point if the amendment wasn’t basically the same provision that they had begun with. Camera responded that it was “clearer”, which lead Valentino to laugh, but the amendment and the motion passed with only Noone, Gaglianese, and Pealer voting no.
The Council also approved unanimously an amendment to require the PRB to undergo training on New York’s Open Meeting Law since all of the PRB’s meetings must be conducted in accordance with this law.
Pruett also moved to have the PRB refer possible criminal conduct back to the Council for the Council to refer out to the appropriate agency. However, City Attorney Emil Bove, Jr. indicated that he didn’t see any problem with the way the law was drafted and stated that he did not recommend Pruett’s amendment. Consequently, the Council voted unanimously to reject this motion.
The Council spent time discussing several other issues regarding the PRB, including the issue of anonymous complaints, but took no other actions on the law. At the conclusion of the meeting, Bove pointed out that the PRB law could be subject to a mandatory referendum as was Rochester’s Police Accountability Board law. This comment set off a firestorm of overlapping comments by Councilors. Salamendra was the most vocal and stated that other attorneys had not felt this was necessary. Others also tried to state that the referendum issue should have been brought up much earlier. At which point Valentino called for a motion to adjourn stating that if he didn’t get one he would end the meeting. Pealer moved to adjourn and Valentino called for all those in favor. Although it didn’t sound like anyone actually voted and Valentino never called for anyone opposed to the motion, he ended the meeting and the live YouTube feed was immediately ended.