The Schenectady City Council met behind closed doors to discuss the May 19 incident involving Mayor Gary McCarthy and is planning to ask Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett to call for an outside investigation.
Councilman Vince Riggi, the only non-Democrat on the council, said after the council’s one-hour meeting in executive session at City Hall it appears that the seven-member council is in agreement that the incident should be investigated by an outside agency.
The council plans to ask Bennett to call for an investigation by the state police, Riggi said. But Bennett was a no-show at the meeting Wednesday evening, despite his plans to attend to brief the council on the incident.
The discussion in executive session centered on the incident involving McCarthy and two women in the early morning of Thursday, May 19.
Sarah Dingley, 38, of Rotterdam, called 9-1-1 shortly after 1 a.m. reporting that a man was following her and her friend in their vehicle and flashing his lights at them. Dingley claims McCarthy was intoxicated.
McCarthy said last week that he decided to follow them in his vehicle because he believed they were either picking through garbage, breaking in cars or doing drugs. He said he was not intoxicated.
Listen to the callSarah Dingley's 911 call
McCarthy followed them to Schenectady Police Headquarters, where officers questioned McCarthy and the two women separately. It’s unclear what was said. No charges were filed. Police declined to comment about the incident.
McCarthy did not return repeated requests for comment on Wednesday evening.
Riggi said Bennett did not attend the council meeting after being advised by labor counsel not to because the discussion would include the actions of city police officers.
“It’s bothersome, that’s for sure,” Riggi said of Bennett not attending the meeting. “We can’t force Commissioner Bennett to do anything at this point. We’re the City Council, so we can make recommendations. That’s basically it.”
Bennett did not return a call for comment Wednesday evening.
Riggi sent a letter to Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney on Tuesday asking for Carney to call for an outside investigation. Carney said on Wednesday evening that he has not yet received the letter.
Carney said on Friday that he would have to recuse himself from any complaint or investigation because McCarthy worked with him in the DA’s office as an investigator for more than 20 years.
Council President Leesa Perazzo told the media after the meeting that the council “discussed all of our options.” She declined to discuss specifics.
“We wanted to make sure that the council fully understands all of the options that are available to them,” she said. “I think that’s very important.”
Perazzo did say that the council can pass a resolution calling for certain actions and has the power to subpoena people for sworn statements.
Riggi said he believes the council using subpoena power would not lead to a “fair and independent” review of the incident.
“We don’t have any criminal oversight,” Perazzo said. “We wouldn’t be able to do anything with the subpoenas except pass those along with recommendations.”
Corporation Counsel Carl Falotico was in the meeting and advised the council on their options, Perazzo said.
Perazzo said the council plans to discuss the incident again in executive session during the council’s committee meeting at City Hall on Monday evening.
“There are still a couple of questions from the commissioner we would like the answers to,” she said.
Perazzo said she did receive a message from Bennett before the meeting that he would not be able to attend.
“We actually got a lot of answers tonight that I thought were very good and helpful to the council,” she said. “It’s just in deciding what, if anything, we may do.”
After the meeting, Councilwoman Marion Porterfield said the council’s goal is to get more information about the incident and resolve the situation.
Porterfield said she believes an outside investigation is “the way to go.”
“I want people to be clear that one of the options is not that we’re trying to possibly cover up anything that may have happened,” she said. “We want to get to the truth of what happened and have the situation resolved. That is our goal as a council.”
According to the state Open Meetings Law, the council meetings could be held in executive session if they’re discussing “the medical, financial, credit or employment history of a particular person or corporation, or matters leading to the appointment, employment, promotion, demotion, discipline, suspension, dismissal or removal of a particular person or corporation.”
This provision does apply to city police officers but does not apply to the mayor because the council does not have authority over an elected official, according to Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government.
“When they’re talking about the mayor they can’t do any of those things to him,” Freeman said. “It does not appear that there would be a basis for conducting an executive session.”
Falotico said before the meeting Wednesday evening that he believed the discussion would fall within the Open Meetings Law.
Riggi said he believes the mayor should be calling for an outside investigation to clear his name.
“This is a convoluted, bizarre situation,” he said. “Where it’s going to go I have no idea, but I hope it’s resolved so we can move forward.”
Reach Gazette reporter Haley Viccaro at 395-3114, firstname.lastname@example.org or @HRViccaro on Twitter.