By Miguel Lopez
The Police Accountability Board (PAB) members held a press conference this morning at the Flying Squirrel Community Center on Clarissa Street to announce it was launching a campaign aimed to “protect its independence and autonomy.”
The organization is calling on the city to “follow the law, and let the PAB do its job.” They requested the city stop “interfering with their hiring process and stick to the original terms they agreed to honor when city residents voted overwhelmingly to include a Police Accountability Board in 2019.”
PAB Board Chair Shani Wilson revealed it’s been 3 weeks since the city informed that the PAB will not be allowed to hire their own staff.
According to the city’s website, the PAB only has one full time staff member, its executive director. With a budget of $5 million, the PAB’s intentions were to have 55 employees on staff, which they believe should be an independent hiring process, without the need for approval by City Council President Loretta C. Scott. So far, only 20 or so positions have been approved by the Human Resources department from the city.
A statement released yesterday from the PAB said that the board is “exploring all legal options that can ensure the City follows the law.”
The Police Accountability Board believes that this undermines their ability to act, investigate, and hire, as an independent and autonomous city agency and that the city is attempting to use them as a political tool.
PAB’s attorney Phillip Urofsky, a partner at the law firm Sherman and Sterling LLP, sent a letter to the city of Rochester’s law department. The letter reads partly “the city has no reason to believe that the PAB was intended to be a department of the City Council.” He also wanted the city to respect the PAB’s executive director as the appointing authority for the PAB’s staff.
“The Charter designates the PAB’s board- not the president of the city council- as the “appointing authority” for the PAB’s executive director and its staff,” Urofsky said. He pointed out the exact section in the Charter that states the executive director will not be reporting to the City Council president but rather to the PAB board.
According to section 18-6 (C) of the Charter, states that “the PAB director once confirmed, reports to and serves at the discretion of the board and is responsible for the hiring and supervising of PAB staff.
“This means the city council has no legal authority to try to control who the PAB selects to hire,” Urofsky said.
Urofsky’s letter was sent two weeks ago, and as of this writing, the city has yet to respond.
Wilson said that while conversations were held last year in private, communicating with the city the need to follow the law, she said this was to protect the PAB’s members from the consequences of speaking out.
She stated the City may retaliate by “refusing to sign contracts the PAB needs to get to work, cutting our budget, or putting up other barriers to our success.”
The PAB currently does not have any power to discipline any RPD officers after a local Supreme Court judge sided with the Rochester Police Locust Club, however, the PAB hopes to become a national model for cities across the United States.