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Councilors cast doubt on Saratoga Springs CRB proposal

Activists stand to address the Saratoga Springs city council
Lucas Willard
Activists stand to address the Saratoga Springs city council

An effort to establish a civilian review board in Saratoga Springs before the end of the year faces an uphill battle.

The future of a civilian review board remains unclear after a heated public meeting Tuesday night at city hall.

Outgoing Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton held a public hearing Tuesday on a revised draft ordinance to establish a framework for a civilian review board. Dalton says the revised proposal takes recommendations from the city’s Police Reform Task Force and the general public into account.

But one key concern was raised frequently by those in the audience Tuesday – the proposal’s lack of subpoena power.

Adam Walker is a Capital Region activist active in the racial justice movement in Saratoga Springs.

“You’ve created a CPRB that effectively has no subpoena power, so it’s effectively nothing,” said Walker.

Giving the CRB subpoena power was recommended by the Task Force. Dalton has been dubious about creating a board with subpoena power and the ability to conduct independent investigations, preferring an approach to grant a CRB with those powers if needed at a later date, in order to foster trust between the public and police.

But with a new city council to be sworn in in January, any proposal passed by the current council before then could be overturned.

Outgoing Commissioner of Accounts John Franck said Tuesday in his conversations with the four incoming members – all fellow Democrats – they’ve indicated they’re only interested in establishing a board based on the language recommended last spring by the city’s police reform collaborative.

“If we’re going to go ahead with any of things short of what that board – that we all appointed – put forward, they are going to immediately dismantle it and start with what the Task Force did,” said Franck.

Franck was also the sole dissenting vote last spring when the city council voted to separate a handful of items out of the 50-point set of recommendations from the Task Force, including a CRB. Franck’s position prompted questions from Dalton.

“So you’re saying that unless we adopt the Collaborative’s proposal word-for-word, you would not vote for it?” asked Dalton.

“Correct,” said Franck.

Republican Public Works Commissioner “Skip” Scirocco, the only member of the current council who will return in January, said he prefers to wait.

“I, personally, would be more comfortable with the new council looking at this proposal,” said Scirocco.

Outgoing Democratic Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan, who also is leaning toward leaving the CRB to the next council, said next year’s budget does include funding for a CRB.

“It’s sitting out as an assignment right now, what was recommended in the budget, so that there could be investigatory powers if needed by the civilian review board, and some other options as this council and the next council determines what the future of the civilian review board will look like,” said Madigan.

Outgoing Democratic Mayor Meg Kelly, who like Franck and Madigan did not run for re-election, has sparred with Dalton in recent meetings over the proposal. The outgoing Public Safety Commissioner has accused Kelly of attempting to stall the CRB proposal for political reasons, which the mayor has denied.

A vote on the CRB ordinance was not scheduled for Tuesday night. Dalton said she would not push for a vote.

“So we’re not just going to spin our wheels. We want this to be productive and efficient and successful,” said Dalton.

Moving on to a public comment period following the discussion on the CRB, Mayor Kelly offered an apology for allowing a member of the audience to engage with the council following the close of the public comment period during a meeting two weeks prior. The woman, who was white, was given time to speak about an issue related to school crosswalks. During that meeting on November 1st, Black audience members objected to the woman being given extra time.

Tuesday night, Kelly apologized for allowing a person to speak after the public comment period was closed.

“I should not have allowed this to happen. The criticism which has been directed towards me for allowing this has been appropriate and I accept it. I will not allow that to occur again in the future, and again, I apologize,” said Kelly.

In prior meetings, Kelly has raised her voice and gaveled in attempts to halt members of the public, particularly Black Lives Matter activists, who go over their two-minute time limit or single out councilors during comment periods.

Several attendees Tuesday did not accept the mayor’s apology. More than a dozen are facing minor charges in connection with a July 14th protest. Saratoga BLM organizer Lexis Figuereo has also been charged after disrupting two council meetings during the summer.

Nedra Hickenbottom, Figuereo’s mother, was one of the dozens who addressed the council during the meeting. She demanded the charges against her son and daughter, another vocal activist, be dropped, as the New York State Attorney General’s Office investigates the arrests of BLM activists and potential abuses of police power in Saratoga Springs.

“And this whole arrest thing and all of this stuff needs to be dropped. Because you know it was bogus! Who ever signs a warrant for certain stupid things as this, for disorderly conduct?” asked Hickenbotton.

NOTE 11/17/21: This story has been updated to more accurately reflect comments offered by Mayor Kelly.

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.