Mayor Vince DeSantis Tuesday said Gloversville Police Chief Anthony “Tony” Clay will retire by Dec. 31, but will continue to serve as police department’s lawful chief to help enable a smooth transition from now until then.
DeSantis and Gloversville labor attorney Bryan Goldberger talked to reporters after the mayor and the Common Council conducted a closed door executive session Tuesday night.
“The chief had indicated a desire to retire, and I can tell you that those conversations to provide for an orderly transition have been ongoing,” Goldberger said.
Before Tuesday night’s Common Council meeting there were several passionate speakers who told the council they were not happy that Chief Clay’s employment status with the city has been in limbo for the last few weeks.
Black Lives Matter activist Lashawn Hawkins, who had worked closely with Clay on the state mandated police reform plan in 2020, spoke out in defense of Clay. She said the council and the mayor should explain to the public why Clay will not be continuing as chief.
“We are disappointed. We are disappointed,” she said. “To just force the chief’s resignation, it’s just beyond. You can’t honestly say that that was worth that. Sure, he should have been in trouble for the videos and such, but to force his resignation.”
Police chiefs in Gloversville serve an indefinite term, which means they can only be terminated for “cause”, which would include misconduct, making it unclear how the mayor or council could have forced Clay’s decision to retire. The original resolution passed appointing him chief on Feb. 25, 2020 includes a provision making his annual salary subject to change by the mayor and the common council per an annual review of his “performance.”
DeSantis and Goldberger said Clay is free to discuss the terms of his exit from the city at the end of the year. DeSantis reiterated that Clay was not being fired.
Clay did not return a phone call and text message seeking comment for this story.
Clay has not attended a Common Council meeting since the airing of a controversial two-part series broadcast by News Channel 13, WNYT in Albany, earlier this month, which included graphic body camera footage of an apparent opioid overdose and the efforts of the Gloversville Police Department to deal with the ongoing problem of opioid abuse and overdoses in the city. Clay appeared in the series, defending the policy of using Narcan to save overdose victims’ lives.
City officials with knowledge of the situation have said the mayor and the common council were blindsided by the video series and were upset that Clay did not inform them about the video series until it aired, and that the series depicted Gloversville in an overly negative way without placing the scope of its drug overdoses, deaths and Narcan usages in context compared to the rest of the Capital Region.
Channel 13 Tessa Bentulan at the end of the second part of the series said the Gloversville Police Department had told her their city had the highest per capita instance of opioid overdose deaths in the region, but provided no number to support the claim.
DeSantis Tuesday said at least some of the information presented in the series was wrong.
“I think Gloversville has just the same drug problem as other cities in the region, and as a matter of fact our per capita overdose rate is a little bit lower than the other regions,” DeSantis said.
According to the “New York State Opioid Dashboard” — available at www.health.ny.gov/statistics/opioid — Fulton County as a whole has had approximately 11.2 annual opioid overdose deaths per 100,000 people since 2019, higher than the Mohawk Valley region, which is shown to have at 8.6 annual opioid overdose deaths, but lower than the Capital Region shown to have 14.9 annual opioid overdose deaths per 100,000 residents since 2019. The dashboard, however, does not break out Gloversville specifically.
During the Channel 13 investigative series Bentulan said only the Gloversville Police Department among the region’s police agencies was willing to “peel back the curtain” and show the public the ugly reality of what opioid overdoses can look like.
Bentulan said Channel 13 “asked a lot” of the departments in the region for similar access, and indicated the Schenectady Police Department was among the department’s asked. She said no one in the Gloversville Police Department approached the station with the idea for the story.
“No, Gloversville did not pitch it to us,” she said.
Bentulan then said she was not permitted to respond to other questions regarding the series including why there is a 48-second gap on the body camera footage used, and who the identity of the person with the second camera is shown in Part 2 of the series. She said all questions about the series must be directed to Channel 13 News Director Michael Raffaele.
DeSantis and Goldberger denied any connection between the series and Clay’s decision to retire, despite numerous questions directed to them about that topic.
DeSantis said Clay had expressed interest in retiring before the piece aired. He said he believed he did a lot of “soul searching” over the last few weeks.
“The fact that I was not happy with the presentation that WNYT did does not have anything to do with my relationship with chief Clay,” DeSantis said. “We talk all the time, almost every day.”
Goldberger said no severance pay will be provided to Clay, and the terms of the end of his employment were set by the resolution passed by the Common Council when he was hire as chief, including that he “shall revert to the retiree health insurance benefit and payment level he enjoyed prior to his return to active duty as a captain in the Gloversville Police Department on or about March 24, 2019.”
This will be Clay’s second retirement as a Gloversville Police Officer, having worked for the department from 1995 until 2015 when he retired as a captain. During his tenure Clay had had a number of roles with the GPD, including “Network Administrator.” After his first retirement Clay then began working for the GPD as a paid consultant through his company ERT-C Consulting, LLC, which he did until his return in 2019 as a captain before being appointed chief shortly before the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.
DeSantis said one of the things Clay is still needed for at the department for the next several months is his great knowledge of its information technology “IT systems.”
“We’ve got new computers in both the Gloversville/Johnstown police departments, and the sheriff’s department, and another company brought in these computers and they’re having a lot of trouble with them, and that’s something that has to be sorted out,” DeSantis said, referencing a new shared dispatch system between those agencies. “It really requires a lot of hours of any police officer’s duty to do paperwork. And these computer systems, they really depend on them for data entry, and when something is down it really costs a lot of delays in police work. (Clay) is very knowledgeable with respect to that, and as chief he really had a hand in that quite a bit.”
DeSantis said the city has not been paying Clay’s IT consulting firm since he became chief because that would be a conflict of interest.
Goldberger said he’s uncertain whether Clay was drawing his police pension during the time he has served as police chief. He said normally there has been an allowed income limit for police pension recipients who continue to work for local governments, and Clay’s salary of more than $100,000 annually since 2020 would have exceeded that limit, except those limits were waived since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. Goldberger said he believes the limits remained waived.