Geneva City Council held a special meeting Wednesday, March 24 during which they approved the City of Geneva Police Reform and Reinvention Plan. The Council also set a schedule for interviewing candidates for the Geneva Police Review Board (PRB).
Wednesday’s meeting was extremely contentious at times. At one point City Manager Sage Gerling even asked Council to take a breath and pause to calm things down. In addition, at a different point, Mayor Steve Valentino cut the discussion off to call a vote because the conversation was getting too contentious.
Most of the conflict was not regarding the actual Geneva Police Reform and Reinvention Plan under consideration via Resolution #25-2021. Rather the conflict was started when Salamendra, and Councilor Ken Camera (Ward 4) raised the issue of why the Geneva Police Department (GPD) had not yet implemented a Resolution passed by Council in September 2020 that encouraged GPD to implement a “Use of Force Continuum” policy until the GPD’s Use of Force Policy was revised. Gerling informed Council that GPD had not implemented the Resolution due to several potential legal issues, including conflicts with State law.
Both Salamendra and Camera were frustrated by the GPD’s refusal to implement the policy. Camera stated that he was frustrated with the City Manager, City Attorney, Mayor, and Chief’s continued efforts to thwart the majority of Council who desired to see this Resolution implemented. Camera was so frustrated with what he considered City Attorney Emil Bove, Jr.’s interference in the process that he plans on introducing a resolution to terminate the City Attorney. Camera called on Council to hire its own legal counsel from a different law firm than the one Bove, Jr. works for. In renewing his calls for the City to implement the force continuum policy, Camera continued to call for the City to put the force continuum on lamented cards that officers could carry and use while on patrol
Gerling reminded Council that it did not have the authority to force the GPD to implement changes to the Use of Force Policy and reminded Council that the Resolution it passed only encouraged the use of the continuum.
Salamendra asked Gerling if she would force the GPD to implement the Continuum of Force policy if they continued to do so. Gerling reiterated that there were several legal barriers to implementing the Continuum of Force Resolution and that she preferred to find a sustainable solution that was acceptable to all interested parties. Gerling stated that she never wanted to take the approach of mandating these types of policies by saying to the GPD Chief if you do not implement it your out. Salamendra then tried to ask if Gerling would even refuse to mandate the policy when violence was involved. This is when the discussion got so heated that Valentino cut off the debate and called for the vote.
However, prior to the Vote, Valentino allowed Councilor Anthony Noone (At-Large) to speak because he had not yet spoken on the issue. Noone supported the resolution under consideration and stated that he thought that some wanted the “Power of the Presidency” in regards to the Use of Force Policy. He felt that some issues were controlled by State Law, which he said Council had no power to change.
Lost in the debate over the Resolution regarding the Use of Force Continuum by GPD was the actual City of Geneva Police Reform and Reinvention Plan under consideration. The plan was designed to:
- Recommend effective policies, procedures, and initiatives;
- Ensure equitable and fair practices;
- Foster community relationship building; and
- Support the well-being of community members and officers.
Gerling informed Council that the State required that the plan be approved by April 1, 2021, or the State would consider withholding significant funding from the City. Council finally approved Resolution 25-2021 on an 8-1 vote, with only Salamendra voting no. Gerling announced that the police collective group who developed the plan had agreed to stay together and work towards implementing the plan. The goals of implementation were:
- Implementation of the policy recommendations;
- Creating a road map for Use of Force policy next steps;
- Mental health awareness and partnerships with behavioral health agencies;
- Wellness initiatives for GPD and City staff;
- Trainings for GPD and City staff;
- Community engagement; and
- Measurement of the impact of policy changes.
The public can view the full approved plan at https://secureservercdn.net/126.96.36.199/1be.177.myftpupload.com/wp-content/uploads/Final-Draft-Plan-2021_3_18_2021_with-appendices_smaller_size-1.pdf
The Council also approved a plan for evaluating applicants who applied to sit on the Geneva PRB. Council set-aside each Tuesday 5:30 P.M. – 7:30 P.M. and Thursday 6:00 P.M. – 8:00 P.M. in April for interviews. Council also set-aside Saturday, April 10, 2021, 9:00 A.M. – 12:00 Noon for interviews if Saturdays become necessary. These interviews will not be public meetings. Council planned an Executive Session in May to select PRB members and planned to vote on the proposed members at their June regular Council meeting.
Councilors engaged in a sometimes contentious debate regarding who should be interviewed. Some felt that all applicants who qualify should be interviewed. While others felt that the applicants should first be screened, such as is done in typical employee hiring processes, to reduce the workload on Council. Some also felt that Council should not select anyone for the PRB who opposed the PRB’s purpose. Salamendra even wanted to exclude from interviews any applicant who was considering a lawsuit against the City to stop the implementation of the PRB. Ultimately, Council could not agree on screening criteria to screen out applicants and ended up agreeing to interview all resident applicants.
Council was supposed to discuss the Genesee Park Remediation project but elected to put this discussion over until the April 5, 2021, Council work session.