Armed with a favorable ruling by the state Appellate Division the week before last, the city of Schenectady plans to go ahead and hold an open disciplinary hearing for its latest arrested cop, Eric Peters. Not only would that be in the public’s interest, but the police department’s — it’s the best way for Schenectadians to feel confident that their police officers are being held accountable for misbehavior, and at the same time that the city’s disciplinary process is fair.
The police union may be able to keep the Peters hearing closed (last week the city announced plans to open the hearing to the public) if it files a challenge with the state Public Employment Relations Board. But so far, it hasn’t done so. We hope the reason isn’t just strategic, and reflects a new attitude on the part of the cops. We’d settle for strategic, though — as long as the hearings are open.
The strategic consideration is that the police union seems reluctant to force the issue with PERB, both on the question of open hearings and the larger question of whether the city can discipline on its own or must negotiate discipline as part of collective bargaining (PERB has been sitting on the latter for nearly 29 months). Last year the union got a friendly Supreme Court judge, Barry Kramer, to rule in its favor on both questions, but the Appellate Division ruled two weeks ago that he had “erred.”
The union’s problem is if it pushes PERB for decisions on these issues and loses, its chances of winning any further court challenges would be remote. But even if PERB rules in its favor, the city could appeal and the Appellate Division, which made clear its sympathy for both city disciplinary power and open hearings in its recent decision, would likely wind up deciding the case.
For now, at least, this basic problem seems to be staying the union’s hand with PERB. And it has reduced the union’s lawyer, Kevin Luibrand, to attacking hearing officer Jeffrey Selchick as unfair because in the last year Selchick has repeatedly ruled against the union, allowing the city to fire bad cops.
That’s amusing because of the way Selchick got chosen for the job. As part of the binding arbitration process, both sides must agree on a hearing officer. And while the city wanted Selchick to hear all 10 of its police discipline cases because he is highly respected and his decisions have never been reversed, the union jumped at the chance to have him because he had ruled in the union’s favor on salary matters in the past (in 2008 he gave the police two consecutive 4 percent raises with no givebacks to the city). He was fair enough then. Now it appears that fairness is measured not by the process but by the result.