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CRB ordinance leads to disagreement during public hearing in Saratoga Springs

Discussion regarding a civilian police review board in Saratoga Springs boiled over Tuesday, exposing the rift between the city’s outgoing mayor and public safety commissioner.

A public hearing was held Tuesday on legislation that would create a framework in the Saratoga Springs city code for a civilian police review board. The creation of such a body was a key recommendation by the city’s Police Reform Task Force – part of a 50-point plan and agreed to by the council in principle, pending further review.

Democratic Mayor Meg Kelly then appointed two people to an independent implementation committee. Over the last several months, the committee presented recommendations and information on civilian police review boards.

Earlier this month, Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton introduced an ordinance that lays out the duties and responsibilities of such a board, as well as the makeup of the CRB. Dalton, a former Republican, is making an independent run for mayor as Kelly steps down after two terms.

During Tuesday’s hearing on the ordinance, members of the public gave their thoughts on the board. There were concerns about the powers and mission of the board, a residency requirement, a background check, and the makeup of the proposed board itself – with city councilors making appointments to the five-member body.

But the input from the public was marked by the verbal sparring between the mayor and public safety commissioner, laying bare a fundamental disagreement over how to continue with the CRB’s implementation.

Dalton, who announced a vote would not be held on her ordinance Tuesday at the beginning of the hearing, defended her approach of passing the framework ordinance sooner rather than later, prompting a response from Mayor Kelly.

“I think the approach of voting first and then working out all the details and the figuring it out is the most expeditious approach. I think doing it the other way, as I said before, is tantamount to an endless delay, and so that’s it,” said Dalton.

“So I would like to just comment that I think this council, in principle, is on board with this CRB. So I think that at this time, I think that we need to come together as a council, work with all of the stakeholders and try to sit down, and we have time to get this across the finish line. But I think we have to do it right,” said Kelly.

Kelly criticized Dalton for not seeking input from city attorney Vince DeLeonardis. DeLeonardis was an appointed non-voting member of the Police Reform Task Force that concluded its business in March. Dalton’s ordinance was drafted by the assistant City Attorney, Tony Izzo.

Kelly accused Dalton of drafting the ordnance “behind closed doors” with Jason Golub, whom the mayor appointed to the independent two-member implementation advisory committee, and a former co-chair of the larger Police Reform Task Force.

“I said it! It’s weak legislation with a lot of holes, a lot of vagueness,” said Kelly.

“OK, I understand that Mayor Kelly has a political point that she wants to make…”

“…A political point? What are you talking about? I’m done in 72 days! I have nothing in the game here!”

“Mayor Kelly, could you stop interrupting me for a moment?”

Kelly accused Dalton of acting “individually” in pursuing the ordinance, not as a team. Dalton pushed back, asserting she was acting in accordance with a resolution that the public safety commissioner make the recommendation in consultation with the advisory committee.

“I have fulfilled this task exactly as you laid it out,” said Dalton. “So you can stall and stall and stall…”

“…I’m not stalling. I’m going to do it right. I’m not going to put garbage out. Garbage in, garbage out.”

“If you were going to do it right, where have you been the last 14 months?” asked Dalton.

“Commissioner Dalton, I’m not going to go back and forth with you. It’s not worth my energy or time, so I’m done,” said Kelly.

Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan, an outgoing Democrat, added to the discussion in describing her resolution that would fund recommendations adopted by the city council in response to the Police Reform Task Force, including a CRB.

“As we get more details, this is an assignment that can be added to, because we do want to ensure that if we’re going to set up such a board, that they do have the funding necessary to carry out their duties,” said Madigan.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.