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Ordinance would set framework for Civilian Review Board in Spa City

Debate over how to establish a Civilian Review Board in Saratoga Springs continues.

A Civilian Review Board, which would potentially be able to investigate complaints against the city police department, was recommended by the city’s Police Reform Task Force. In March, the council approved the task force’s recommendations, but separated out some items for further study – including the CRB.

Mayor Meg Kelly, a Democrat not seeking a third term, later appointed two members of the task force to serve as a separate task force to review implementation of a civilian review board.

The implementation task force provided a series of informational updates, including on September 21st. While questions remained on specifics, here’s appointee Jason Golub speaking two weeks ago.

“To me, it would take six months or so to get all of the input from all of the stakeholders, put together the process for how this would be stood up before we ever started a CRB. I think the process and getting everyone on board is critical, but I think equally critical is the city council making a determination as to whether this is something that they want to do, and I hope that happens relatively soon,” said Golub.

During that meeting, Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton, who is running an independent campaign for mayor, expressed her desire to move ahead.

“We know everything we need to know. I think we need to take the next step and agree that we’re going to do this. And I think everything that Jason pointed out – in terms of what not to do and what to do to succeed – we are capable of doing. And I think that this could be a really positive thing for the city and I think that this is the time,” said Dalton.

Two weeks later, Dalton introduced an ordinance to establish a framework for a CRB. Dalton says it’s important to codify the CRB, which would also allow it to receive funding in the city budget.

But when attempting to establish a public hearing on the ordinance, Dalton’s plan was objected to by Mayor Kelly.

“I’m not sure that this reflects the task force, what the task force is looking for. I thought the council was in agreement when we adopted the resolution. The task force asked us to implement the CRB with a particular process. This is empty legislation, as I see it. Why did we wait to bring this? We should have brought this in April if this is what we’re bringing. We approved the recommendations of the task force for the CRB in principle when we passed the resolution. This ordinance is very vague and it’s very troublesome,” said Kelly.

Kelly has been cautious about the process in establishing a CRB. Since the public safety commissioner oversees the police department, Kelly has questioned whether the city needs to hold a referendum to revise the city charter to establish a new body with police oversight.

Tuesday night, the mayor appeared to express that the council had not received enough information yet, as Dalton pushed ahead with establishing a public hearing on her proposed framework.

“I’m going to just say one comment here, we heard about two cities, one that is irrelevant and one that is Ithaca," said Kelly. "And we didn’t hear anything else. And it was less than one hour of institutional knowledge that we gained. So I feel that we are not ready for this. I did this implementation…”

“I think that Jason Golub did an excellent job researching and explaining to the city what he thought would work best. I have great respect for the work he’s done and the work product that he’s presented us with. And I note your objection but I’d like to move forward and get it scheduled for the next city council meeting,” said Dalton.

During Tuesday’s public comment period, one audience member requested the mayor recuse herself from a future vote on Dalton’s CRB ordinance, citing her familial relation to the head of the city police department’s union. Her nephew is president of the PBA.

Kelly referenced the comment later in the meeting.

“I want to say, I have no problem recusing myself. I think this is just not a good document and I don’t think it’s what the task force intended,” said Kelly.

“Thank you,” said Dalton.

Tuesday night’s meeting also featured a presentation from a lawyer retained by the city to provide a timeline of events related to the case of Darryl Mount Jr. Mount died months after an August 2013 police foot chase. His family is suing the city, and racial justice advocates have demanded an impartial investigation into Mount’s death.

The Saratoga Springs Police Reform Task Force’s recommendation for a CRB makes specific reference to the Mount case.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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