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Schenectady police discipline case heard in state's highest court

Schenectady police discipline case heard in state's highest court

City seeks public safety commissioner oversight, while union argues for arbitrator
Schenectady police discipline case heard in state's highest court
A Schenectady police car is parked in front of Mont Pleasant Middle School.
Photographer: PETER R. BARBER

ALBANY — The long-running dispute over how Schenectady police officers are disciplined will soon be settled.

The state's highest court, the Court of Appeals, heard arguments Wednesday from the city and its police union over what law should control the process.

If the court sides with the city, the city's public safety commissioner would have exclusive power to discipline officers. If the court sides with the union, an arbitrator will continue to be used to decide disciplinary cases.

At the heart of the issue is which of two laws should prevail in the city.

Representing the city Wednesday was attorney Christopher Langlois, who argued there really is no conflict between the law the city says governs disciplining police officers in Schenectady — the Second Class Cities Law — and the more recently enacted law that the union claims should dictate the process: the Taylor Law.

The Taylor Law mandates that disciplinary procedures for all public employees be the subject of good faith collective bargaining. The Second Class Cities Law commits police discipline to the discretion of the city's public safety commissioner.

"The two laws occupy completely different fields of operation," Langlois argued in response to a question by Judge Eugene M. Fahey. "The Taylor law has nothing to do with police discipline. It talks generally about an obligation to negotiate. The Second Class Cities Law has nothing to do with negotiation."

Langlois cited a prior Court of Appeals ruling that gave New York City's public safety commissioner the ability to discipline NYPD officers. That case should apply to Schenectady as well, Langlois argued.

City officials have argued that, in both the New York City case and a similar case concerning the town of Wallkill in Orange County, the Court of Appeals came down in favor of public safety commissioners having exclusive power to discipline police.

Attorney Michael Ravalli, who represents the union, argued that the New York City case was different because the Second Class Cities law does not apply to New York City.

The case between the city and the police union has been ongoing for several years.

The path to the Court of Appeals began with the New York City ruling in 2012, which gave many municipalities the right to discipline police officers. The Schenectady police union then turned to the state Public Employment Relations Board to argue that the ruling didn't apply to Schenectady.

The Appellate Division ruled in favor of the state Public Employment Relations Board. The city's last step was to appeal to the state's highest court.

Attorney David P. Quinn argued in court Wednesday on behalf of PERB, saying he supports the Appellate Division’s ruling that the Taylor Law governs the city's disciplinary procedures.

The Taylor Law, he said, overlays the earlier law and provides alternatives to it.

"So the Second Class Cities Law remains in effect, except where parties mutually agree to some different procedure," Quinn argued.

A ruling is expected in the coming months.

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