Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, on Tuesday introduced a bill to give the Schenectady public safety commissioner more authority over police discipline.
The bill, S-7265, contains language to remove police discipline issues in Schenectady from the “terms and conditions of employment,” as defined in the state’s Taylor Law, leaving them up to the public safety commissioner instead.
The new legislation is a response by Farley to a controversy that erupted earlier this month following Senate passage of another bill that city officials say would undermine police discipline by reaffirming the arbitration procedures provided for under the Taylor Law. Farley voted for that bill, which also has passed the Legislature in previous years and been vetoed by prior governors. It seeks to overturn a Court of Appeals ruling that said pre-existing local law providing for police discipline takes precedence over the Taylor Law.
Schenectady Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett is seeking to use the court ruling to assert his authority over police discipline, and is supported in that by Mayor Brian Stratton.
But on Tuesday, Stratton and Bennett said passing a local law, as Farley proposes, is not the answer to the city’s problem. Stratton said the police unions could seek to amend the law to the city’s detriment, and Bennett said they could try to pass another law in the future to undermine the first one. Bennett also said the local law could be undermined by the Public Employment Relations Board or the courts.
Stratton said Farley should have consulted with him before introducing the legislation. Last week, Farley said Stratton should have contacted him about the city’s opposition to the broader police discipline bill. However, on Tuesday both men expressed willingness to negotiate the issue.
Neither Stratton nor Bennett raised substantive objections to the language of the Farley bill.
Reaction to Farley’s bill was not divided on partisan lines. Councilman Gary McCarthy, chairman of the Public Safety Committee and, like Stratton, a Democrat, said he supports it. Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco, R-Schenectady, declined to sponsor it, said his spokesman, Joshua Fitzpatrick, because of Stratton’s opposition. Assemblyman George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, also said he was leaning against the Farley bill, because of the lack of local support.
The bill is not going anywhere without a home rule message from the city in support of it, Farley conceded. John Van Norden, Schenectady’s corporation counsel, said that would require legislation approved by the City Council. If the mayor vetoed a home rule message, five of the seven council members would have to vote for an override for it to succeed.
Michael Cuevas, Tedisco’s counsel and a former chairman of the Public Employment Relations Board, said that even if the broader bill fails, and the Court of Appeals ruling stands, Bennett’s strategy could be undermined by PERB, because it is not clear that pre-existing law gives the city authority to impose police discipline. But Van Norden said he is confident Bennett’s position would be upheld before PERB and in the courts, unless the state passes the broader law overturning the Court of Appeals ruling.
That broader legislation was put on hold last week in the Assembly so that police unions could negotiate with the office of Gov. David Paterson, in an effort to come up with modifications to it that could avoid a veto.
In a news release, Farley said his bill “will increase the commissioner’s administrative control over police discipline, regardless of previously negotiated contracts or of any future amendments to the state’s Civil Service law.”
The Farley statement said “Schenectady officials vocally oppose a proposed state law which would overturn a recent Court of Appeals decision and restore a previously negotiated contract provision for impartial arbitration of discipline matters which could not be resolved within the chain of command.
“The bill which I am introducing is a reasonable compromise,” Farley’s statement said, because it will just affect Schenectady, and not the rest of the state.
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