GENEVA — A proposed local law that would create a police accountability board, as drafted by the city’s Black Lives Matter organization, will be the template officials will use to craft the legislation, not the one offered by the city’s attorney.
At about midnight Wednesday, during a Zoom meeting that lasted more than six hours, Council voted 5-4 to approve a measure setting a public hearing for Sept. 23 on a local law creating a police accountability board. It came after suggestions of deceit and stonewalling against City Attorney Emil Bove and City Manager Sage Gerling by council members and the public who support the People’s Peaceful Protest’s PAB draft, which they said has more teeth.
Council will be working with Bove and city administration over the next weeks to refine the document.
Members of the public and some councilors accused Bove and Gerling of deliberately stalling the process, as well as offering a piece of legislation that was not crafted in the spirit of the intentions of the vote taken at Council’s July 1 meeting. That resolution called for a public hearing on the proposed local law to take place this past Wednesday.
Ultimately, and without public communication, the hearing was turned into a forum that ran from 5 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. prior to Council’s regular session.
Bove and the administration had resisted using legislation written and submitted by the People’s Peaceful Protest, and some councilors expressed anger at what they thought was a deliberate intent to halt progress on a local law they said had far greater powers than the one authored by Bove.
The attorney had advised against using PPP’s proposal, saying it was problematic in a number of ways, including whether its adoption could result in litigation with the city’s police union.
At a work session Monday night where the issue was once again discussed, Ward 4 Councilor Ken Camera expressed anger at what he thought was a city attorney and manager ignoring the will of the five members who approved the resolution on July 1, one of several the PPP had authored.
Bove has argued that the hearing was set at the July 1 meeting without having any local law legislation in hand, one of the reasons he believed the Aug. 5 public hearing was improper.
Councilors disagreed with Bove’s contention. They said there was enough information in the resolution passed July 1 setting the public hearing to know what direction council members wanted the local law to go.
“Everybody knew the legislative intent of the five that voted for this,” Camera said at Monday night’s worksession, adding that PPP’s legislation sufficed as a placeholder and would certainly get Council modifications prior to a vote for adoption, which could only come after a public hearing.
“Our sentiments were clear,” added Ward 5 Councilor Laura Salamendra.
The PPP submitted a draft proposal on July 21, in time for consideration by Bove and Council. However, Bove instead presented his own draft local law, which PPP and others claim had no real powers in police misconduct cases and instead deferred all investigation and disciplinary powers to the chief.
The PPP’s proposal would give the board the power to conduct independent investigations, the power to use subpoenas to compel testimony and the production of evidence and the power to recommend discipline according to a disciplinary matrix that would be created in coordination with the police chief and city manager.
Adam Fryer, a spokesperson for the PPP, expressed outrage over what had transpired over the past few weeks and took aim at Bove and Gerling.
“Vote to remove the city attorney,” he said. “He lied to all of us and purposely sabotaged a duly voted public hearing against the majority vote. Vote to remove the city manager. If she didn’t know what was happening and couldn’t ensure the city followed the process, then she was either neglectful or complicit and either way has no business being city manager.”
He also recommended that the PPP’s proposal be used, not Bove’s.
Camera expressed his dissatisfaction with what had transpired and noted that Council has the power to fire both the city manager and city attorney. He promised to consider calling for such measures if the “abrogation of democracy,” as he called it, continued.
Bove attempted to explain why he offered his draft, as opposed to the PPP local law version, as a “placeholder” in part because its components, modeled after similar local laws, “hasn’t been overturned by any judges.”
He also argued that since Council expected to make “substantial changes,” using his version would have sufficed. However, he ultimately agreed to guide Council on how it could use the PPP’s local law, either presenting it along with his draft or as a standalone.
Ultimately, Council, by a 5-4 vote, voted for the PPP version, with Camera, Salamendra, Ward 3 Councilor Jan Regan, Ward 1 Councilor Tom Burrall and Ward 6 Councilor John Pruett voting in favor.
Pruett’s vote didn’t come quickly. He had dropped from the Zoom session and needed to be reconnected. He ultimately broke the 4-4 tie.
The public hearing was moved from the original date of Aug. 31 to Sept. 23 at the urging of Regan to give the administration and Council more time to make modifications to the proposed local law.