By Abigail C
At the December 20th City Council Meeting, Council President Miguel Melendez released two pieces of legislation to be brought to a vote. They had no community input. They were released two hours before being voted on and during the week before Christmas–the time when the fewest people are paying attention. A very bad look.
The reason why Miguel tried to slide these votes under the radar is clear when you examine what they sought to accomplish:
1. Put all PAB HR decisions under the control of the city HR department, which reports to the mayor.
2. Require PAB staff to complete certain training.
3. Continue the hiring and expenditure moratorium on the PAB until this coming June.
4. Take all the PAB’s unspent budget and give it to other city departments.
The first item is the most important since it places all hiring decisions of the PAB under the purview of City Hall. In 2019 the people of Rochester voted in a public referendum for the creation of an independent PAB that could take on the Rochester Police Department (RPD) without the interference of outside political influence. Changing the charter to put the PAB’s hiring decisions under the control of the city HR department transforms the PAB from an independent agency to just another office under the administration.
The third item is problematic in that it continues to hamstring the PAB’s ability to function.
Items number two and four are largely insignificant. This training is already mandated, and the budget redistribution would happen anyway–this legislation dictates specifically what it would be spent on.
But even these inoffensive items become upsetting when you consider how they were tactically deployed in the holiday lull and that none had community input.
Taken together, these developments represent an un-doing of the very essence of what makes Rochester’s PAB a national model for reimagining public safety. The PAB is unique among civilian oversight boards in its independence, remarkable powers, degree of community control, and breadth of purpose.
The first item, Miguel’s attempt to place the PAB under mayoral control, was tabled until January. It needed six votes to pass and only had five. A motion to table was passed unanimously.
The other three items–the training, hiring freeze extension, and reallocation of the remaining budget–all passed 7-2, with Stanley Martin and Kim Smith in opposition.
It is important that the first item didn’t pass. It is doubly important that we, as a community, push back on this. The PAB is in a rocky state for a variety of reasons. The administration is trying to use this as an excuse to remove its independence.
Call your city council representatives and tell them you don’t agree with this. Or better–come to the January Speak to Council on January 19th at 6pm. All you have to do is sign up to speak by 4:30pm that day and you can tell them whatever you want.