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Albany Common Council Public Safety Committee continues discussion of Local Law C

The Albany Common Council Public Safety Committee held another virtual session in its continuing discussion of Local Law C.
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The Albany Common Council Public Safety Committee held another virtual session in its continuing discussion of Local Law C.

The Albany Common Council Public Safety Committee held another virtual session in its continuing discussion of Local Law C this week.

Committee Chair Tom Hoey of the 15th Ward opened Wednesday night's session reading much of the 10-page law into the record.

"So for tonight's meeting, again, I'm going to stress that we're holding off on public comments, there will be a future meetings where we will invite the public both via coming in and talking or by sending letters and emails and we will read them into the record," Hoey said.

Local Law C would create an Albany civilian public safety commission, a panel of nine. Four members would be selected by Mayor Kathy Sheehan; five by the Common Council. The body would appoint a Commissioner of Public Safety and would oversee the police department, while providing transparent public access to its operation and stored information. The measure would require a change to the city charter.

11th ward councilor Alfredo Balarin said funding is “the big elephant in the room.”

“ I think when you have real honest conversation about it, I think there's some who would say she come from the police department budget," Balarin said. "OK, well, let's have that discussion. Let's have that honest conversation of how much do people want to have taken out from police budget? How many officers, how is that going to affect the police department budget? Let's have that honest conversation, and also have the conversation of what else would we want to get the remaining funds? If it's not all going to come from that department? You know, are we looking at increasing taxes for it? Are we looking to use other supplemental funding that may be coming in? How are we going to pay for it?”

Balarin also noted that residents have a real concern that their voice isn't being heard in the decision making process. Second ward councilor Derek Johnson agrees there is a need for accountability.

"Council people didn't just wake up and say, ‘Listen, we want to change, we want to change how things are done in the police department,’ " Johnson said. "Once again, people have advocated people have called and said, We're, you know, enough, enough, they had enough of how the old system. And so anytime we encounter change is going to automatically be met with some resistance. “

Hoey tried to push the meeting forward, saying "This is a 10-page law. And we're going to have people for and against it. But to make any kind of sense out of it. We, I want us to analyze, you know, as your chair, I'm asking that we examine each section of the law. We talk about it, we discuss it, we're going to hear people for it, people against it. But let's get it out there. Let's have a good conversation.”

13th ward councilor Ginnie Farrell brought discussion back to funding. In March, city treasurer Darius Shahinfar expressed concern that Local Law C would create "a brand new bureaucracy at the city, and has no method or mention of how it's going to be funded." Farrell told panelists you "can't create a budget until you know what you're spending money on."

"We're obviously talking about a giant budget hit," Farrell said. "I think that we're all aware of that. And I shouldn't say hit but it's going to have a, it's not going to be inexpensive, what we're looking at. And so I think having that understanding, but I think it'd be helpful to know exactly what we're going, you know, it's hard to come up with that if we don't know what we're spending it on.

Panelists also considered whether Local Law C would require creation of a new department to support the commissioner, how such an entity would be structured and the degree of control Mayor Sheehan's office would have over it. The mayor's 2022 budget includes funding to hire a commissioner of public safety.

Again, Johnson: “You know we lived under the Public Safety Commissioner of the past, and that didn't work because it was in alignment with the mayor's office. So you had two people that were making decisions for the city that were both talking to the mayor, and it was mayor-led. And so in Albany, yes, people have elected a mayor, but if you look at the numbers, the numbers are going in the opposite direction,” said Johnson.

Hoey scheduled another discussion for April 20th. He has maintained he expects to hold as many as 10 meetings on Local Law C, with many opportunities for public comment, as it passes through committees, a council vote and the mayor before ending up on the November ballot as a referendum.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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