SCHENECTADY — City Council had a moment of silence on Monday — an awkward one.
City Councilwoman Marion Porterfield asked her colleagues to start thinking about the looming timeline for state-mandated police reforms.
“As a [City] Council, we really should start looking at that and putting things together and then outreaching to other agencies who have put things forward, see what meets up, what works together and what things can be done,” Porterfield said.
But instead of discussion, she was met with 20 seconds of silence from her six colleagues before City Council President John Mootooveren moved on.
Lawmakers were then briefed by city General Services Commission Paul LaFond on extending a contract to haul sludge.
“I’m speechless,” Porterfield said after the meeting. “It’s clearly something to work on. Not being acknowledged by my colleagues is something I find frustrating and it comes across that it’s not a matter of importance at that time.”
Amid a national reckoning on race relations, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order last month requiring police departments statewide to develop plans to improve community relations and policing based on community feedback.
The City Council must approve a plan by April at the risk of losing state funding.
Mootooveren said Porterfield’s request was met with silence because he asked the Schenectady NAACP for prepared materials but didn’t receive them.
“We didn’t say anything because we don’t have any documentation,” Mootooveren said.
Schenectady NAACP has already prompted some reforms.
Three days after the civil rights group called for certain changes, the city police adopted them. They included a ban on knee holds; reinstatement of de-escalation training to the department’s use of force policy; and to deny recertification credentials to officers who use deadly force unwarranted under federal guidelines.
Porterfield questioned Mootooveren’s strategy.
“We should not be waiting for other agencies to prompt us for what we should do,” said Porterfield, a Schenectady NAACP member. “Rather for us to wait for other agencies to submit their plans or proposals, as the government entity, we really need to start working on that and putting some things forward.”
City Council at the minimum, Porterfield said, needs to collectively review the executive order and explore how neighboring localities are approaching the directive, including the city of Albany.
City Councilman John Polimeni said lawmakers didn’t say anything because the topic wasn’t previously scheduled as a discussion item.
“It wasn’t on the agenda and no one knew it was coming up,” Polimeni said.
Mootooveren, however, offered Porterfield the chance to speak.
Schenectady has experienced a number of demonstrations since the death of George Floyd while in custody of a Minneapolis police officer on May 25.
Local protests continued on July 6 following a violent altercation between a Schenectady police officer and a suspect.
City lawmakers have said they support the Black Lives Matter movement and the governor’s mandated reforms, but details on their precise role in the process remains vague.
Mootooveren could not say if the City Council will require groups participating in the process to submit written materials. He said a series of meetings between police and community organizations is ongoing.
“We want to give that an opportunity to work its way out, which is why the majority of the [City] Council is attending these meetings,” Mootooveren said. “And then we discuss as a body and add to the recommendations hopefully presented by the agencies.”
The next meeting is scheduled for July 29 at 6:30 p.m. at Grace Mercy Church.
“My intention is to work with everybody on the way forward,” Mootooveren said.
Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo said she doesn’t think participants need to submit materials to the City Council for review.
“But I would like a conversation,” Perazzo said. “The council shouldn’t ever work in a vacuum.”
Grassroots activist group All of Us has taken a more hardline approach than Schenectady NAACP and has pledged to use civil disobedience to obtain their demands. The group attempted to occupy City Hall last week.
All of Us plans to formally submit a petition containing 500 signatures from backers of their 13 demands to the City Council, co-founder Shawn Young said on Wednesday.
Mayor Gary McCarthy previously said the city aims to ramp up community meetings following Labor Day.
Police Chief Eric Clifford said more details will be announced soon.
“Over the last week, we’ve made good progress on putting together a working group,” Clifford said. “I expect we’ll be releasing more information tomorrow in conjunction regarding a conversation that I had that was video-recorded in its entirety.”
Members of the public reported problems accessing Monday’s virtual City Council meeting.
Meetings have been conducted online since mid-March using WebEx software.
Agendas are typically released several days beforehand and contain the phone number, access code and password for the online meetings.
But 30 minutes before the meeting, the agenda was abruptly updated and the access codes replaced with a link where viewers could watch the meeting live on Open Stage Media; on Spectrum Channel 1303 or on Verizon Fios Channel 38.
The City Clerk’s Office also sends out an online invitation to reporters and city officials to join the meetings.
The Daily Gazette on Monday had to email officials for a link to access the meeting.
Tom Carey, president of Schenectady United Neighborhoods, said the Open State Media livestream was delayed by at least 25 minutes, and the webcast did not immediately appear on Fios.
He said the city has been good about ensuring public access to meetings during the pandemic.
“But they have to make sure that keeps up,” Carey said.
“I think it could have been a technical glitch,” Mootooveren said. “We’re trying to sort it out.”