Does a 106-year-old law govern Schenectady police discipline or does a law passed 48 years ago govern it?
Attorneys for Schenectady, the city police union and the state Public Employment Relations Board made the latest arguments in the long-running dispute Tuesday in front of the Appellate Division of the state Supreme Court.
The Appellate Division’s ruling — which is weeks away — will help determine who has the final say in Schenectady police discipline cases, the city’s police commissioner or an arbitrator.
The justices themselves gave little indication which way they leaned, asking few questions and posing the only questions they did ask to the attorney representing the city, Christopher Langlois.
The city is asking the Appellate Division to reverse a 2013 PERB ruling that found the collectively-bargained, arbitrator-based system to be in effect based on a 1967 law called the Taylor Law.
The city argues that the PERB ruling is at odds with prior rulings from the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, allowing municipalities with laws that predate the 1967 statute to control discipline cases.
Langlois argued that the Court of Appeals in separate rulings in 2006 and 2012 carved out exceptions for cities like Schenectady to use laws that predate the 1967 statute.
The original law the city wants to use, called the Second Class Cities Law, isn’t invalidated by the 1967 Taylor Law, Langlois argued. Both laws operate in their own areas.
“In this case, both the Second Class Cities Law and the Taylor Law have distinct fields of operation such that neither is in conflict with the other,” Langlois said.
Justice Michael Lynch asked Langlois about a potential area where the laws covered the same issues.
Langlois argued that the Taylor Law is a general statute on terms and conditions, but doesn’t address police discipline negotiations specifically. Later Court of Appeals rulings carved out exceptions for pre-existing laws, he argued.
Attorney David Quinn represented PERB Tuesday and attorney Michael Ravalli argued for the Schenectady Police Benevolent Association. Both sought to uphold PERB’s ruling in the Schenectady case.
Quinn argued that the Taylor Law gives the structure for discipline. PERB did not find that the 1909 law was repealed by Taylor.
“The Second Class Cities Law is operative fully except in so far as collective bargaining establishes alternatives pursuant to the Taylor Law,” Quinn argued.
Ravalli added to Quinn’s argument by citing another law, one from 1936 the city adopted, called the Optional City Government Law. He said that law took the place of the 1909 law, making the earlier statute invalid.
“From the start, it’s apparent that the Optional City Government Law contemplates a different structure when it comes to police discipline,” Ravalli said.
He argued the 1909 law requires a commissioner of public safety and a department of public safety. The city passed the 1936 law and then abolished both the commissioner and the department.
Langlois responded that the 1930s act did not render the previous law inoperative regarding discipline.
The city’s current public safety commissioner, Wayne Bennett, has been in office since 2007. Since then, about 10 police discipline cases have been heard through an arbitrator.
Bennett has said he believes the decision on police discipline should be done in-house.
The department has 139 police officers and has seen a turnaround since Bennett’s arrival. Bennett stepped into his role when the department was facing scandal, including missing drug evidence tied to a detective.
Mayor Gary McCarthy has said the history of the Police Department “is not something we are proud of” and he is looking to the court ruling to ensure the department does not return to the way it was.
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