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Geneva City Council approves special counsel for PRB referendum

The Geneva Police Review Board fight entered a new phase Wednesday, March 10 when City Council approved a Resolution to appoint a Special Counsel to assist the City regarding a petition for a Referendum on the Police Review Board (PRB).

On March 4, 2021, Geneva United, a local Geneva citizen and business coalition, presented the City with a Petition calling for Local Law 1-2021, which created the PRB. The issue of whether or not the PRB should be voted on by the public seems to be just as controversial as the PRB itself. Some believe that the PRB should be voted on by City residents to ensure that everyone has a say in the issue. While others believe that a Referendum would be too expensive and is not legally mandated. Geneva United has previously made clear that they will attempt to force a Referendum, even it it requires legal action to do so.

With the threat of legal action to force a Referendum, Council scheduled a meeting to consider a resolution to hire Special Counsel to assist in evaluating the Referendum issues. Prior to Wednesday’s open meeting, Council held an executive session where they met with the City’s attorney regarding the Referendum issue.

At the opening of Wednesday’s public meeting Councilor Frank Gaglianese (At-Large)  moved to delay the meeting and a decision on the Special Counsel Resolution so that Councilors could consider and digest the information received during the Executive Session. This motion died because no other Councilor Seconded the motion.

Councilor Laura Salamendra (Ward 5) moved to have the law firm of Gibson Dunn serve as Special Counsel for PRB Referendum issues. Councilor Jan Regan (Ward 3) Seconded Salamendra’s motion.

Through its Racial Justice Initiative, Gibson Dunn previously assisted the City in evaluating the original Police Accountability Board (PAB) proposal. In agreeing to assist the City with PRB Referendum issues, Gibson Dunn once again offered the City their assistance on a Pro Bono basis. Gibson Dunn would only be reimbursed for incurred expenses but would receive no attorney fee payments from the City.

In discussing the proposed Resolution, Regan stated that she thought it was part of the Council’s responsibility to prepare for potential litigation. Regan also felt it was also part of the Council’s responsibility to not spend unnecessary funds, when possible.

Councilor Anthony Noone (At-Large) agreed that the Pro Bono offer from Gibson Dunn made sense financially. However, Noone cautioned Councilors that if the City determined that the Referendum was not legal they should not think the issue is dead. Noone stated if Councilors thought citizens would give up fighting the PRB “you are standing on a shore looking for a different boat that you have clearly missed.” Noone argued that Geneva citizens wanted a Referendum for everyone involved in the process because it was the best democratic solution to the controversy.

Mayor Steve Valentino stated that, although he initially had concerns about Gibson Dunn, he found their previous work for the City to be valuable, unbiased, and factual. Valentino also stated that he felt that Gibson Dunn had the expertise necessary to represent the City regarding the Referendum issues and thanked them for agreeing to work Pro Bono.

Council passed the Resolution on a 7-2 vote. Gaglianese, and Councilor William Pealer (Ward 2) voted no.