SENECA FALLS — A motion to demote the town police chief and lieutenant didn’t happen at Tuesday’s Town Board meeting.
Supervisor Greg Lazzaro said Nov. 21 that he would introduce a measure to reduce the rank of Police Chief Stu Peenstra and Lt. Tim Snyder to sergeants. However, with many in the crowd expecting a fight over the issue, Lazzaro never made the motion and gave no explanation as to why.
During public comment, town resident Frank Sinicropi, former Seneca County personnel director, said Civil Service Law states that the only time a police officer can be demoted is if he or she is charged with misconduct or another offense, with specific details needed. He noted when that happens officers have an appeals process in place, as stipulated by law.
Sinicropi added that having the police chief sit in on negotiations is not a conflict, especially if he or she is not directly involved in them.
“(The chief) has to know the details of these contracts with the rank and file because he has to administer the contact,” Sinicropi explained. “It is not a conflict.
“The chief and lieutenant should get the same percentage raises and benefits as the union members,” Sinicropi added. “There’s also an issue of it being seen as retaliation for them wanting a union, and you don’t want to go there.”
Last month, when Lazzaro said he would introduce the motion, he listed the following reasons:
• While agreeing that management of the department has a right to negotiate a contract, this case is a conflict of interest because Peenstra had previously presented a contract proposal to the Town Board, giving him and Snyder the same rights and privileges as the rank-and-file union officers in a contract negotiated by the board and Peenstra.
• The police chief, as part of the negotiating team, should have disclosed his intent to negotiate a contract for himself and the lieutenant after rank-and-file union negotiations were complete.
• After those negotiations were completed with rank and file, Peenstra should have recused himself from the negotiating team.
• Management personnel make a career decision when accepting their positions and should not be given the same terms and conditions of employment as the rank and file have negotiated.
In addition to reducing the two in rank, Lazzaro said he would advertise for a new position of acting police chief.
Peenstra and Snyder have sought recognition by the town as a new, separate two-person bargaining unit as a means of protecting their jobs and allowing them to negotiate the same benefits as members of the union that represents the rest of the town Police Department.
Lazzaro has predicted the police department “will price themselves out of business.”