Schenectady County

Police discipline bill called a sham

State legislation on police discipline is just theatrics, Schenectady City Councilman Gary McCarthy
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State legislation on police discipline is just theatrics, Schenectady City Councilman Gary McCarthy said Monday, as he refused to entertain another request to officially fight the bill.

“It’s all a sham,” McCarthy said. “I’m not going to play into the charade.”

He said it’s clear the Senate and Assembly have no real interest in enforcing a bill they have passed several times in the past two years. The bill, which has been passed again by the Senate and is before the Assembly, would require Schenectady and other municipalities to use arbitrators, rather than the public safety commissioner, to discipline police. It has been vetoed three times by Govs. George Pataki and Eliot Spitzer, but the Legislature has never tried to override the vetoes.

“If they’d really wanted it, they would have just brought it back and overridden the governor,” McCarthy said. “The reality of this legislation is, the bill passed by overwhelming margins. If the Legislature wanted to overturn that, the votes were clearly there.”

Mayor Brian U. Stratton said McCarthy’s viewpoint had some merit but said he still wants the council to write a letter to the Assembly and Gov. David Paterson, urging them not to support the bill.

When he broached that subject for the second time Monday, McCarthy all but ignored him.

Stratton tried to persuade the council, saying council members should write a letter before meeting with the city’s state representatives on April 7. The council already knows its position and doesn’t need to hear why its representatives feel differently before writing a letter, he argued.

“We don’t need any clarification, any excuses, any explanation. This city council doesn’t have to wait. We should be putting this on the agenda … with all due respect,” Stratton said.

“So noted,” McCarthy answered. “Anything else to come before the caucus tonight? Do I hear a motion to adjourn?”

He said afterward that he won’t acknowledge the pending state bill at all.

“I’m looking to deal with substance as opposed to rhetoric,” he said. “We want something real. We’re going to ask our legislators to deliver to us something that enables us to continue to do what we need to do to improve our department.”

UNION CLOUT

McCarthy added that the Legislature is trying to impress labor unions with the bill while not actually implementing anything.

“In the Legislature there’s a charade, in my mind, with the labor unions — the governor vetoes it and they say, ‘Oh well, what can we do?’ ” McCarthy said. “It’s all theatrics.”

Stratton said McCarthy is maneuvering for home-rule legislation that would let just Schenectady avoid arbitration in police discipline cases.

But Stratton said he thinks that is a grave political error because it would force the city to fight on its own, rather than continuing to lobby with New York City and other municipalities. He said the effort would also have a greater chance of failure because labor unions could focus pressure on just three of the state politicians — Schenectady’s three representatives — rather than having to lobby the entire Legislature.

“That will be back-stepping significantly because it will enable the PBA to have exclusive bargaining with three members,” Stratton said.

But he said McCarthy may be right in his description of the reality of the bill.

“There’s certain merit in that. It is kind of a dance of sorts,” Stratton said.

Still, he argued that writing a letter in opposition to the bill wouldn’t hurt.

“The point I was making was, why don’t you articulate your position? I’ve sent letters. It would help to have the council,” he said. “But we’re moving forward. We’re not going to wait.”

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