Forget $42,000 for fitness coaches. Three residents offered to tell the police how to get in shape for free.
They showered the Schenectady City Council with their advice Monday night, but the council chose to approve a $42,000, 18-month contract for professional wellness coaches instead.
The vote was 5-1, with Councilwoman Denise Brucker voting against. Council President Margaret King was absent.
Brucker found herself allied in her opposition with three regular city critics, including one who has repeatedly said that Brucker should not be on the council.
For a night, all that was forgotten. Instead, the four united in their insistence that police get fit on their own time, with their own money.
Resident Pat Zollinger said police already know how to get in shape.
“It’s common sense. I don’t need a coach to tell me I need to get out and move around more often, and I don’t see how the police need it either,” she said.
If that were not helpful enough, resident Mary McClaine gave police a specific and economical fitness plan: buy a book and a set of barbells.
“There are many self-help books, and barbells for home use would be a good investment,” she said, adding, “Barbells are fun and they work!”
If police would prefer to exercise at work, resident Vince Riggi said they should get out of their cars and walk part of their patrols. That, he said in his first comment on the issue, would also save the city gas money and would help the officer impress residents, as well as deterring criminals.
“It’s a win-win,” he said.
He later added that all the coaches in the world won’t help the police.
“You can talk to all the coaches you want, it’s not going to work,” he said. “Nobody can tell you to get in shape. It’s all up to us to keep ourselves in shape.”
Brucker, who said last week that police should pay for gym memberships if they want coaching, emphasized Monday that the money for the coaches will come from the police training budget.
“I believe this is an inappropriate use of training funds,” she said. “It should go to other training expenditures.”
But Councilman Mark Blanchfield said the program would be well worth it if police called in sick less often because of their improved health.
“If we get 100 officers to give us one day each because of this effort, it will pay off four times over,” he said. “I think this is a worthwhile effort and consistent with our efforts to reduce absenteeism. I’m prepared to give this a chance.”
Councilman Gary McCarthy said critics were using the issue to “craft a political response” to make the police look bad.
“This goes back to the old joke — don’t punch a man when he’s down. It’s easier to kick him,” McCarthy said.
He added that he hopes the program will produce results so impressive that they can be used to negotiate with health insurance carriers for lower rates.
“I believe this money is well spent,” he said. “I believe in the long term it will provide us with a long-term benefit.”
In other business, the council approved a gas surcharge for the city’s taxi cabs.
Taxicab drivers will tack on $1 to short trips and $1.50 to long trips.
If gas drops below $3.50 a gallon, the surcharge would drop to 50 cents for trips that cost less than $5.05 and $1 for all longer trips. If gas continues to rise and crosses the $4.50 per gallon mark, the surcharge would automatically rise 25 cents for all trips.
The council approved the increase after no one spoke against it during Monday’s public hearing.
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