SCHENECTADY – The City Council’s Public Safety Committee declined to take action on a proposal to denounce city school board member Jamaica Miles’ call to defund the Police Department.
The matter on Tuesday generated significant debate that included a concern about preserving Miles’ freedom of speech.
Councilwoman Karen Zalewski Wildzunas proposed the resolution, supported by Council Majority Leader John Polimeni, while Councilwoman Marion Porterfield and Council President John Mootooveren pushed back. Council member Carmel Patrick didn’t weigh in on the matter.
At issue was Miles’ public remarks in support of defunding the police.
Zalewski-Wildzunas referenced a news report in which Miles called for defunding the police during an event in Albany.
“My concern is that things are moving forward in a good manner,” Zalewski-Wildzunas said in an interview after the meeting. “We have a new [school] superintendent, and we have a sitting school board member that is actively out stating that she wants to defund the police. This is a leader in our community that’s driving a wedge, quite frankly, between the school and the Police Department and it’s just not a good way for us to move forward as a community.”
Zalewski-Wildzunas said Miles’ comments were damaging to Police Chief Eric Clifford and the Police Department’s work during planning for the Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative process.
“We’ve come a long way,” Zalewski-Wildzunas said. “There’s more work to do.”
Zalewski-Wildzunas said her request was timed ahead of the city’s 2022 budget presentation in October.
“I want our police to understand that we’re supportive of them,” she said.
But Porterfield, noting she is also supportive of the police, said Police Department funding should be taken up during the budget process, and she wasn’t aware of any formal petition to defund the police that had made its way to the council.
Moreover, Porterfield said that Zalewski-Wildzunas’ resolution had the appearance of singling out Miles and her First Amendment right to protest and peacefully assemble.
“We have numerous people that come before the council and rail. I don’t think we all agree with everything they say,” Porterfield said, adding resolutions against them would be venturing down “a slippery slope.”
The councilwoman also suggested an affirmative vote would have had the unintended consequence of inviting the American Civil Liberties Union to council meetings to defend free speech.
But Polimeni suggested Miles was wrong for meddling in council business as a school board member. Polimeni said that for the longest time, it was his understanding that the two public entities were very distinct bodies.
“And here we have a school board member, crossing that line,” he said.
Polimeni said he disagreed with Porterfield in that the resolution was “very much about funding the police, and not something about a particular individual.”
Mootooveren suggested the resolution was unnecessary. He said he didn’t believe “any one of us would ever deny the Police Department the resources it needed.”
In a text-message, Miles declined to comment Tuesday night.
But a comment posted by All of Us on YouTube footage of the meeting, read, “Writing resolutions against what a resident in the city said … wow.”
The committee did act on two police-related items:
The committee voted to accept a $354,142 Gun Involved Violence Elimination grant for the Police Department from the state Department of Criminal Justice Services. It is part of $785,275 in grant funding in a partnership with the Schenectady County District Attorney’s Office, the county Probation Department and Sheriff’s Department.
The committee also accepted $39,440 from the state for city police to increase seatbelt usage and reduce aggressive driving behaviors.
The money items advanced to the Common Council for passage.