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Geneva United trying to force PRB referendum vote

Geneva United is planning to present a Petition to Geneva City Clerk Lori Guinan  Thursday, March 4, 2021, at about 11:30 a.m. The Petition calls on the City of Geneva to put the recently passed Police Review Board (PRB) Public Law out for a public vote via a Referendum.

Geneva United is a community alliance and business coalition. The group’s website describes the group as a bipartisan group seeking to maintain the unity of Geneva. The group’s tagline is “Join us in our effort to take our community back”.

The group was founded by local Geneva resident Michael Pinco. Pinco is a retired aeronautical engineer who is currently a part-time radio show host. Pinco says that he became politically active because of concerns about strong ties between the City Council and Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Pinco wonders if “people would really be supportive of Hobart & William Smith if they really understood their influence on the City”. Pinco also stated that he believes Socialism and Marxism are destroying the City.

Geneva United’s current primary goal is to have the PRB Public Law voted on by the community via a Referendum process. Pinco feels like the PRB process has dropped the City into the “Twilight Zone”. Pinco does not understand how the City could pass a PRB Public Law without funding the organization through the budget, does not believe the City can get quality training for the PRB for free, and does not understand how the PRB public law can exclude relatives of law enforcement officers while allowing convicted felons to sit on the Board.

But despite his concerns with the content of the Public Law, Pinco stated that his greatest concern was that the PRB had been shoved down people’s throats. Pinco expressed particular concern that the PRB had been debated and passed during the COVID-19 crisis that required Council to meet virtually via Zoom. Pinco believed that many residents, particularly Seniors, were excluded from the process because of their lack of access to technology. Pinco stated that he is also finding that many people are still not aware of the PRB proposal.

Pinco also believes that there have been many false statements made about the level of support for the PRB. Pinco specifically claimed that Councilor Laura Salamendra (Ward 5) had claimed many of her Ward 5 constituents support the PRB without showing any proof of this claimed support. In an email response regardling Pinco’s claims and the Petition in general, Salamendra stated “The local law passed with a 6-3 majority after months of discussion, public comment, and research. Council heard month after month—via email, public comment, and written statement—from people who are directly impacted by policing in our City. I believe it is Council’s job is to listen to those stories and act to make our city more equitable and just for our most impacted residents. The PRB is designed to do just that by making policing in Geneva more transparent and accountable to the people.”

Pinco and Geneva United have been collecting signatures via community events and word-of-mouth referrals. Those wishing to sign the petition can call the Geneva United hotline at 646-306-1911. During his interview with Fingerlakes1, Pinco declined to disclose how many people had signed the petition so far, preferring to wait until the Petition is provided to the City before disclosing the number of signatures. However, Pinco stated that he believes that Geneva United’s efforts have easily obtained more than the minimum number of signatures necessary to force a Referendum.

Pinco also stated that at least one City official, Mayor Steve Valentino had signed the Petition. In an email to Fingerlakes 1, Valentino stated that he had indeed signed the petition as a citizen, voter, and taxpayer. Valentino went further stating “ …as Mayor, I can say yes I do support it…The issue is polarizing and very important to the community, so following the democratic process and providing the opportunity for the people to have input on the issue would be prudent. The Local Law as written and passed, in my opinion, was not developed properly with the right input from all stakeholders.”

Valentino also said that he believes that it would have been better to initiate police reform in a way that could have been supported by everyone, instead of creating division, from the outset. He argued that once change had started and was headed in the right direction, further changes could have been made based on what was learned during the initial reform efforts. Valentino believed that this type of process would have been much easier and would have yielded better results. Valentino concluded by saying he thinks “we can all agree that Police brutality and racial profiling is unacceptable and will not be tolerated!”

Although Pinco personally believes that there is absolutely no need for a PRB because the Geneva Police Department already has appropriate procedures in place to handle officer misconduct, he stated that he could live with the PRB Public Law if it is approved by a majority of City residents. Pinco’s greatest concern is that the community as a whole has not had the opportunity to weigh in on the proposal. Pinco believes that Genevans want their voices heard on the PRB via a public vote.

When asked the City’s position on the Geneva United Petition and the potential for a Referendum, City Manager Sage Gerling replied “We will follow the process per our legal counsel once a Petition is filed.” During the past year there has been some confusion over whether City Attorney Emil Bove Jr. believes the PRB is subject to a Referendum because he has made contradictory statements on the subject at various Council meetings.

Pinco and Geneva United are prepared for the possibility that the City will ignore the Petition’s call for a Referendum. Pinco made clear that if the City refuses to hold a Referendum, Geneva United is prepared to take the City to Court to force the City to hold a Referendum on the PRB before the law is implemented. Pinco stated that Geneva United has already been raising money to fund litigation, and has already hired an attorney, who was involved in drafting the Petition.

Pinco wanted Geneva residents to know that the Geneva United effort is a people’s effort to bring the PRB to a public vote. He specifically stated that the Police Officer’s Union has not been involved in the group’s efforts at all.

Pinco also stated that he has become so frustrated with City politics over the past several years that he is considering a run for Mayor during the next City election cycle.