The City Council voted to amend the City Charter October 10, giving the Mayor and Council “approval authority over the appointment of the Police Commissioner.”
By Tom McDermott
A version of this story in the October 10 printed edition of the paper incorrectly stated that the City Council voted unanimously to assume the “right to approve the appointment, suspension, or removal of the Police Commissioner.” The Council did not change the City Charter in regard to suspension or dismissal. The article also incorrectly left the impression that the Council had ignored advice given by a prominent group of concerned citizens not to amend the charter. We regret the errors.
The City Council voted to amend the City Charter October 10, giving the Mayor and Council “approval authority over the appointment of the Police Commissioner.” An early draft of the amendments included proposals for the Council to also have power over suspension and dismissal of the Police Commissioner; however, the Council decided to delete language pertaining to those powers from the adopted amendment.
Several Council members noted in their remarks before the vote that, contrary to what those opposed to the change stated, the Council did not already have the right of approval over hiring a Police Commissioner. It was clear from their remarks, that they had discussed the proposed change among themselves beforehand, and that they felt that they had allowed enough time for public discussion on the subject.
Former Republican City Council member Matt Fahey voiced opposition to the Charter revision. He read a letter (published in Letters) from those former Mayors and City Council members who opposed the change; then made his own remarks, some of which touched a nerve with the Mayor and other Council Members, who took exception to both the content and tone of what Fahey had to say.
Rye Democratic leader Meg Cameron spoke against the proposed changes, and League of Women Voters President, Debbie Reisner, while stating that the League did not take a position one way or another, repeated a call for more public discussion of these kinds of important matters.
At the September 10 Council meeting, the first time the proposal was part of a public hearing, Councilman Richard Slack raised questions regarding the possible suspension of a Police commissioner under the new law. “The Police Commissioner can’t be suspended unless we approve it,” he said. Slack wondered if the timing of a suspension might be problematic and “hamstring” the process, if a City Manager thought immediate action was required. How would the Council convene quickly enough?
At that same meeting, City Manager Culross mentioned that he had already brought up the fact that suspension or dismissal could be problematic for a City Manager if swift action were required.
At the time, Mayor Sack felt that the timing issue could be worked out sufficiently, the Council eventually decided to drop language referring to suspension and dismissal.
Some of those opposed to the changes were left with the impression that their voice had been heard by the Council.
Why did Mayor Sack and this new Council think the time had come to amend the charter concerning the matter of hiring a Police Commissioner, when the Charter seemed to many to have served the City well for many years? On September 10 Sack called the original proposal one of a series of proposals “from the same genre.” One was already approved, giving every City Council member the right to “look at the books at any time,” not just the mayor.
Councilwoman Brett, at the September 10 meeting felt that “over the last 20 years that the City Council’s relationship with the Police Commissioner had become more important,” since public safety had become more important.
City Manager Culross recently hired William Pease as the Police Commissioner. Some concerned residents were still wondering if there was disagreement about his choice among Council members. Did he offer the job prior to seeking what some Council members thought was their right to an opinion? Or, is it simply a matter of coincidence that the Council’s interest in amending the charter came on the heels of the recent appointment of a new Police Commissioner?
The answers to those questions wouldn’t seem to matter any longer. The Mayor and the Council believe that the amendment as adopted does not lessen the role of City Manager in the City’s affairs; some still disagree.