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Revised CRB ordinance to be discussed at next Saratoga Springs council meeting

Saratoga Springs City Hall
Lucas Willard
Saratoga Springs City Hall

A revised ordinance to create a civilian review board to foster relations between the Saratoga Springs Police Department and the community was not discussed during Monday night’s city council meeting — the last before Election Day.

Two weeks ago, an ordinance was presented by Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton to establish a framework for a five-member Civilian Review Board.

The creation of a CRB was a key recommendation from the city’s Police Reform Task Force in its 50-point plan handed up to the council earlier this year. In March, the council voted to approve the recommendations, but separated a handful of items out for further study, including the creation of a CRB, though the council agreed to the concept in principle.

In a city that has seen Black Lives Matter protests and increased calls for police accountability over the last year-and-a-half, some candidates for city office have made the implementation of a CRB a central campaign issue.

Dalton is running for mayor on the independent Saratoga Stronger Together line against Democrat Ron Kim, a former Public Safety Commissioner, and Republican-endorsed entrepreneur Heidi Owen West. Dalton said the revised ordinance takes feedback into consideration.

Dalton said the new ordinance, which has yet to be formally introduced, will incorporate input from the public, the Task Force’s recommendations, and research from a former co-chair of the Task Force, Jason Golub, who was appointed to serve on a two-member implementation committee.

Dalton said the most significant change has been made to the appointment process, and that those interested would be required to apply for a position on the CRB.

“The way we’re proposing it will work, is that the mayor would be appointing people to this group from the pool of applicants that they receive, but it would be over staggered terms. So the terms would be three years, and the initial group would be appointed by the city council, but then moving forward they would be staggered in their terms, such that the mayor would never be appointing more than two people in their term,” said Dalton.

In Saratoga Springs city government, elected officials serve two-year terms.

Among other changes, a residency requirement that also received community pushback was changed from three years to one year. Dalton said new language would also allow for a younger applicant to serve on the board.

In Albany, which has its own CRB, an item on this year’s citywide ballot would give expanded investigative and new subpeona powers to the body. Prop 7 has been promoted by Democrats including Mayor Kathy Sheehan, who signed a local law earlier this year, but has been criticized by Republicans, as well as the city’s police union.

Dalton said the revised ordinance does not give subpoena power to the proposed Saratoga Springs CRB.

“So the amended ordinance does not include that, but it does allow for the group to bring it up if they feel it’s necessary,“ said Dalton. “I think that comparing Albany to Saratoga Springs, you’re really comparing two vastly different cities.”

City Attorney Vince DeLeonardis, who served as a non-voting member of the Police Reform Task Force, has questioned the legality of creating a CRB with subpoena power, saying it could require a citywide referendum. Here he is explaining his thinking in an August city council meeting.

“We have to first go down the path of what will or what will not be included in a civilian review board, including the scope and authority. Once that’s defined, then we can take a look at what’s required. And if it does require an amendment to the charter, then fine, we can amend the charter. That would go to a public referendum, and then it would be up to the people to decide whether or not we do or do not have a civilian review board,” said DeLeonardis.

Two other Task Force members, Police Chief Shane Crooks and appointed member Kimberly Galvin, who also served on the two-member implementation committee, were the two lone votes against the recommendation to establish a CRB with subpoena power in February. The pair echoed concerns of potential conflicts with state labor laws and existing collective bargaining agreements.

While the city council has agreed to the creation of a CRB in principle, there has been disagreement over the process. Outgoing Mayor Meg Kelly sparred with Dalton and criticized the process and language of the first draft of the ordinance.

“I said it, it’s weak legislation, a lot of holes, a lot of vagueness,” said Kelly in October.

Kelly refuted claims by Dalton during the same meeting that she was attempted to make a political point, and said there was still time to move a CRB “across the finish line” before the end of the year.

Meantime, Dalton has denied accusations that her attempt at establishing the framework ordinance is political.

“This doesn’t win any votes for me, one way or the other. This is something that I’m doing because as a city council we voted to this in March, I was put in charge of the current implementation, and so this is my obligation as the current Public Safety Commissioner to follow through,” said Dalton.

After the revised ordinance was not discussed during Monday night’s council meeting, Dalton said attorneys were still working on it, and that she expects to present a new draft at the next meeting on November 16th.

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.