On Wednesday Geneva City Council ended a nearly year-long saga by approving Public Law 1-2021, which establishes a Police Review Board.
Prior to Wednesday’s vote, most of the Council took time to speak on the proposed Public Law and the process that the Council and residents had gone through to create it.
Councilors Frank Gaglianese (At-Large) and Anthony Noone (At-Large) both spoke in opposition to the proposal. Both stated that they had heard from many residents who opposed a PRB. Noone indicated that he had received a petition signed by 375 City residents who opposed the PRB proposal. Noone had originally been prepared to read the names of the individuals who signed the petition but decided not to read them because he was concerned that public disclosure of the individuals’ names could put them at risk of retaliation.
Noone also stated that he thought the proposal should be voted on by the public, not the Council. Noone also thought the law did not have adequate provisions regarding funding, or PRB membership qualifications and training requirements.
Noone specifically stated that he was concerned about how divisive the process had been, particularly how those who opposed the PRB had often been called racists and other derogatory names simply because of their opposition to the law. The tensions over the law were still quite evident when Noone called out Salamendra for laughing as he concluded his presentation.
Both Gaglianese and Noone also expressed concern that the PRB public law would expose the City to unnecessary and costly lawsuits.
Councilor William Pealer (Ward 2) had also consistently opposed the law but Wednesday declined to speak on it stating that he did not think that there was anything constructive that he could add to the debate.
Councilors Tom Burrall (Ward 1), Jan Regan (Ward 3), Ken Camera (Ward 4), Laura Salamendra (Ward 5), and John Pruett (Ward 6) all spoke in support of the PRB proposal. Several of these Councilors spoke passionately about the efforts of the community, particularly Geneva’s youth, to bring the PRB proposal forward and advocate for its passage.
Burrall hoped that the PRB would never have to do any work and that if it did that the Geneva Police Department (GPD) would shine during the review process because of the added transparency and accountability the law would create. However, in the end, Burrall felt it was better to have a PRB and not need it than to not have a PRB and need it.
Regan felt that the PRB would not interfere with the Chief of Police’s authority to operate the GPD and felt that there was a need in Geneva for a PRB. Regan also stated that she did not believe there would be any cost for operating the PRB in the first year. Regan clarified that she had never been pressured by anyone from Hobart and William Smith Colleges to support the law. However, she did state that many Hobart and William Smith professors are long-term residents of the City, many of whom lived in her Ward, and that they should have an equal voice in the PRB debate.
Camera stated that passing the PRB public law was the right thing to do and was an opportunity for the City to recommit to social justice for everyone. He believed that the PRB would improve GPD transparency and accountability.
In his support for the PRB, Pruett stated that he thought it was “idiotic” to think that the PRB was a first step towards defunding the police. Pruett also called on the community to use the PRB process to not only complain about officer conduct but to also point out situations in which GPD officers do good things. Pruett felt that any deficiencies in the law could be worked on as they arose.
Salamendra, who had consistently been one of the Council’s most vocal supporters of the PRB, was most pointed in her support of the proposal when she stated that the PRB was a step forward towards eliminating abusive and racist policing in Geneva.
Mayor Steve Valentino concluded the evening’s PRB presentations by indicating that he is a firm believer in accountability. However, Valentino felt that for there to be true change would require a significant cultural shift and he felt that could be difficult to achieve with the current PRB proposal because of how divisive the process has been. Valentino expressed concern about how difficult it would be to staff the PRB because of the traditional difficulties of recruiting volunteers for City Boards. Ultimately, Valentino stated that he strongly supported a PRB review process but had some significant concerns regarding Public Law 1-2021.
In the end, Pealer, Gaglianese, and Noone voted no on Public Law 1-2021. While Burrall, Regan, Camera, Salamendra, Pruett, and Valentino voted yes. Valentino clarified his vote by stating that he was voting yes on the proposal so that he would be on the “prevailing side” so that he could later bring forth proposed amendments to the law.
Residents can view the entire final version of the law the Council passed at http://cityofgenevany.com/police-reform/.
Get the latest headlines delivered to your inbox each morning? Sign up for our Morning Edition to start your day. FL1 on the Go! Download the free FingerLakes1.com App for Android (All Android Devices) or iOS (iPhone, iPad).