For nearly a year the City of Geneva struggled with enacting a Local Law to create a Police Review Board (PRB). The Geneva City Council approved Local Law 1-2021 creating the PRB on February 3, 2021. But the controversy surrounding the PRB did not end with the Local Law’s adoption. On March 4, 2021, Geneva United, a coalition of Geneva businesses and residents, submitted a Petition to City Clerk Lori Guinan that called for Local Law 1-2021 to be put to a citywide vote via a Referendum. April 2, 2021, Guinan issued a Clerk’s Certificate denying the request for a Referendum on Local Law 1-2021.
Geneva United was formed by local resident Michael Pinco. Geneva United described itself as a bipartisan group seeking to maintain the unity of Geneva. Geneva United brought the Petition forward as a citizen’s effort to bring the PRB Public Law to a public vote. Pinco previously stated that his greatest concern was that the community as a whole had not had the opportunity to weigh in on the PRB proposal. In a written statement issued April 2, 2021, Geneva United stated that “This petition was filed to reintroduce democracy into our city by allowing everyone a vote on a law that would affect each and every person in the City of Geneva.
In an email to Fingerlakes1.com, Guinan acknowledged that the Geneva United Petition was signed by 574 City residents. Guinan also stated that the decision regarding the Geneva United Petition was reached in consultation with the City’s attorney Gibson Dunn.
The requirements for when a Local Law is subject to Referendum are set forth in New York’s Municipal Home Rule Law. Section 23 of the Municipal Home Rule Law defines when a Local Law is subject to a “Mandatory Referendum”. Section 24 of the Municipal Home Rule Law states when a Local Law is subject to a “Referendum on Petition”. In the Clerk’s Certification, the City determined that the Petition did not meet the requirements of either Sections 23 or 24 of New York’s Municipal Home Rule Law.
Geneva United’s statement said that the organization believed that Local Law 1-2021 was subject to a Mandatory Referendum under Section 23 of the Municipal Home Rule Law because Local Law curtailed the powers of Geneva Chief of Police Mike Passalacqua and the Geneva City Council vesting those curtailed powers in the PRB.
The Clerk’s Certificate issued April 2, 2021, stated that “Any objections to this determination may be filed with the appropriate Court within five days.” Pinco previously stated that he and Geneva United were prepared to file litigation to force the City to hold a referendum on Public Law 1-2021. However, despite believing that they would have prevailed in litigation, in its April 2, 2021, statement Pinco and Geneva United stated “Geneva United will abide by the city’s decision…”
Geneva United’s statement implied that the decision not to litigate was reached in part because of the cost of litigation. The statement concluded by saying “…we will definitely not forget this matter come election time. Geneva United strongly feels that the voice of the people of the City of Geneva was ignored and we will continue building our organization physically and financially to improve our city and advocate for its people.”
The City’s next step in the PRB process would be to interview potential applicants to sit on the Board. Council had scheduled closed-door interview sessions for April 6, 8, 10, 13, 15, 20, and 22, 2021.
Todd covers local government in the Finger Lakes. He has a JD degree the Lincoln Law School of Sacramento. Send tips to [email protected].