SCHENECTADY — The City Council will undergo implicit bias training later this month at little cost to taxpayers, and is weighing anti-racism training following a public fallout in September where lawmakers accused each other of being racist.
Council President Marion Porterfield, during a Government Operations Committee meeting Monday, said the seven-member council will complete the training at the end of the month. The city’s insurance company will cover the costs of the two-day training except for an overnight accommodation. The overnight was needed because training will be completed outside working hours to fit lawmakers’ schedule.
“It’s something that we really need to move forward with and we have landed on that again with a low cost to the city, but also an insurance carrier that we already deal with to do our other trainings,” she said.
The city’s insurer already covers the costs of several training programs, including state-mandated sexual harassment training.
Councilman Damonni Farley suggested the council also complete anti-racism training, which he said would go hand-in-hand with the implicit bias training and is already taken by the city’s Police Department.
Farley, an employee of the Schenectady City School District, said school district officials are willing to conduct the training at no additional cost to taxpayers. The training, he said, would be tailored to fit the council’s needs.
“As these trainings do go hand-in-hand and really build off each other as far as sustainability goes, I think it would be a good thing to take advantage of if we have a partner willing to help us in that,” Farley said.
Lawmakers didn’t reject the idea, but proposed contacting other organizations to get additional options before making a final decision.
The implicit bias training comes two months after long-simmering racial tensions between council members that can be traced back to last year’s election cycle. Animosity among council members boiled over in public following a last minute cancellation of a planned town hall-style meeting to hear from residents on issues relating to housing. The meeting was scheduled weeks in advance.
The meeting has been rescheduled for Dec. 1 at 5:30 p.m. at the Boys & Girls Club on Education Drive.
Councilman John Polimeni issued a statement shortly after the notice of the canceled meeting went out, accusing the council’s four members of color — Porterfield, Farley, Carl Williams and John Mootooveren — of working together to postpone the meeting as a way to exclude the council’s white members and other residents from participating.
The accusation prompted Williams to issue a statement of his own to a conservative radio station, where he said Polimeni took issue with the council being made up of a majority of people of color, adding later that Polimeni has a history of “outcasting” the council’s members of color.
Polimeni shot back at a council meeting a few days later, saying differences between lawmakers had nothing to do with race, and accused the council’s majority of using race to avoid criticism. He also apologized to Mootooveren and Farley for his previous statement, saying he was unaware they had no role in the canceled meeting, which Williams accepted responsibility for due to a family illness.
The incident highlighted divisions between the lawmakers of color and the council’s white members, which include Polimeni, Carmel Patrick and Doreen Ditoro, and marked the second time a sitting lawmaker has accused colleagues of racism.
The tensions can be traced back to last year’s election cycle, which featured racial undertones throughout — including accusations of suppression — that culminated in a campaign announcement by a slate of then-candidates of color being interrupted by supporters of Ditoro.
In March, Mootooveren accused Polimeni, Patrick and Ditoro of fueling racist comments directed at lawmakers of color during public comment periods, an accusation that has been denied.
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.