Niskayuna residents are sharply criticizing the Town Board’s handling of a controversial internal review of a top police official following the supervisor’s sudden announcement Tuesday night to withdraw the charges against the officer.
The matter concerning Deputy Police Chief Michael Stevens will now be handled internally.
Stevens said Wednesday he was not given a reason for the cancellation of his disciplinary hearing.
“I haven’t had contact with any of the board members,” he said.
Residents like Steve Benton said they were thinking about attending the hearing scheduled Wednesday and Thursday for Stevens over allegations he was the driving force behind a hostile work environment in the department. The hearing was going to be held publicly, something that does not regularly happen with personnel issues.
That hearing was canceled late afternoon Tuesday.
“I was looking forward to some transparency and hoping some facts would come out,” Benton said.
Benton said it sounds like a last-minute deal was brokered since no rationale was given for the change.
During the Tuesday evening, town board agenda meeting board members entered into an executive session for around an hour to discuss an employee’s history related to the position of police chief.
It’s unclear if the conversation was explicitly about Stevens.
After the executive session and meeting ended Supervisor Yasmine Syed said in a press release the investigation had been dropped and the problem would be handled internally. She would not comment further on why it was dropped.
Stevens had asked that the hearing be held in public.
The release also announced that a new police chief would be named Friday.
Stevens is a candidate for the top job, as are sergeants Todd Frenya and Jordan Kochan. Benton is just one of dozens of residents Wednesday to express frustration about the town board on social media and directly to the Gazette.
The allegations against Stevens were not made public.
“I think we’re owed something as residents and taxpayers,” he said.
Resident Noney Grier and Aaron Hull both told The Gazette they were dissatisfied with the board’s performance.
Hull said he has no confidence in the town board right now.
“It’s terrible,” he said. “It’s a mess. It’s like nothing can be done right.”
He said what’s making it worse is that town officials are not being transparent.
“They’re forgetting this is our town, not their empire,” he said.
Many other residents have taken to social media where they’ve called out the town board for a lack of transparency. Former town board member Rosemarie Perez Jaquith, who stepped down from the board July 1, also questioned the decision.
“Deputy Chief Stevens sought a transparent process to reveal the truth rather than asserting his right to have his personnel matter play out in private,” Jaquith said Wednesday. “Town officials opted for a backroom deal instead. What are they hiding?”
Stevens’ attorney, Michael McDermott of Albany-based O’Connell and Aronowitz, said it’s unfortunate Stevens has had to endure an investigation for over a year but that he’s looking forward to getting back to work.
“We view this abandonment of these charges as complete exoneration for Mike,” McDermott said.