NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- The City Manager, Police Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner of New Rochelle are on the verge of one of the more despicable acts in recent City Hall history. And in this City, that's saying something.
It is so despicable that the two commissioners literally snuck into the City Council chambers on Tuesday, out of public view, off-camera, to present their scheme in an illegal executive session meeting. This was followed by the City Manager waiting until 6 p.m. on Friday to release the agenda for the Regular Legislative Meeting of the City Council this coming Tuesday. Of course, this is just not any Friday but the Friday leading into both a three-day weekend and the mid-winter break for area schools. There will be no public discussion of the Pension Padding Scheme until the item is brought up for a vote on Tuesday. There will be no no media coverage (except for Talk of the Sound) until after the vote has taken place. There will be no public hearings and no Citizens to be Heard.
This is a shameless attempt to slip in a lucrative pay raise and fat pension for friends of the City Manager.
This is not how honorable people operate. It is how criminals operate -- sneaking around, hoping no one will notice as they line their pockets with other people's money.
It needs to be stopped.
You are welcome to read the entire article but the bottom line is that this Pension Padding Scheme cannot be permitted and residents need to act immediately to stop it.
The only published phone number for a council member is the Mayor. He can be reached at City Hall at (914) 654-2150.
All members of council can be reached by e-mail. For those who have their numbers call and let them know you want this vote stopped until all interested parties, including the public, can be heard from.
Tell the members of City Council you want them to TABLE THE RESOLUTION UNTIL MARCH so that the Resolution can be discussed at the Committee of the Whole Meeting, be discussed by the public at Citizens to be Heard and then be voted on the following at the March Regular Legislative Meeting as is the normal course of action for Council resolutions.
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Please do what you can to spread the word as best you can that Police Commissioner Patrick Carroll is attempting to push through a City Council resolution that is little more than cronyism and corruption masked as a "reorganization" of the New Rochelle Police Department. The real purpose of this supposed "reorganization" is primarily "pension padding" with the taxpayers once again on the hook but there is much more behind the Police Commissioners shenanigans.
If you are interested to know more you can read the following account:
The APC Pension Padding scheme first came to light in October when Talk of the Sound demanded documents to be discussed at the October Civil Service Commissioner meeting.
On the day the proposed job specifications for the proposed position of Assistant Police Commissioner were turned over to Talk of the Sound, the City Manager claims he showed Council Members a copy of an August memo from the Police Commissioner outlining the scheme.
A majority of Council Members interviewed by Talk of the Sound say they have no recollection of seeing such a memo.
The rubber-stamp Civil Service Commission approved the proposed APC Job Specification with less than 15 seconds of deliberation. The CSC Chairman, Domenic Procopio, is a close friend and political ally of the Police Commissioner. The pair have been having weekly lunches for well over a decade.
Inexplicably, rather than send the APC Job Specification on to the New York State Civil Service Commission for approval, City Manager Chuck Strome sent the APC Job Specification to the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB), asking them to rule in advance whether the PERB would approve the APC Job Specification if it were adopted by the City of New Rochelle.
This is the equivalent of asking a judge to decide how he will rule on a murder case before anyone has been killed. There needs to be a crime for a judge to hear a case just as their needs to an issue to arbitrate before the PERB can hold an arbitration hearing.
To the surprise of absolutely no one, the PERB refused to rule on the request from the City Manager.
So, how does Mr. Strome convey this maneuver to the City Council? That the PERB is somehow directing the City Council to pass a resolution authorizing the creation of the position of Assistant Police Commissioner.
In a memo to Council posted with the meeting agenda, Strome writes:
In August 2012 the Police Commissioner submitted a memo recommending a reorganization of the Police Department by changing the titles of the Police Captains to Assistant Police Commissioners. A copy of that memo is attached. I agree with the Police Commissioner's belief that the duties of Police Captain should be consider Managerial/Confidential and these positions should not be union positions. Currently, captains are members of the Superior Police Officers Association. (emphasis added)
On October 17, 2012 the New Rochelle Civil Service Commission took action to create the position of Assistant Police commissioner and approved the job specification for the position. The minutes of the Civil Service Commission and the job specification are both attached.
The City has filed a petition with the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) to have the position of Assistant Police Commissioner determined to be Managerial/Confidential and as a result remove the positions from the union. PERB has informed us that the Assistant Police Commissioner positions should be filled prior to their determination on the petition.
As a result, City Council has to take action to establish the Assistant Police Commissioner position in the adopted 2013 budget as Non-represented position in salary grade 8.
RECOMMENDATION: It is recommended that the City Council adopt legislation establishing the Assistant Police Commissioner position in the adopted 2013 budget as a Non-represented position in salary grade 8.
Note that since Patrick Carroll became Police Commissioner there has been no case where a member of the Superior Officers Association had a discplinary hearing.
Look at that last part again:
"PERB has informed us that the Assistant Police Commissioner positions should be filled prior to their determination on the petition. As a result, City Council has to take action to establish the Assistant Police Commissioner position in the adopted 2013 budget as Non-represented position in salary grade 8.
This a perversion. Tortured logic and its finest. The City Council does not have to do anything.
In other words, the City Manager is saying "we got the cart before the horse by going to the PERB and they told us we had the cart before the horse and therefore the City Council 'has to take action'. How do you go from the City Manager went out of order to the City Council must create a new, high-level position in the City government.
Rather than share this absurd argument with the public during the Committee of the Whole Meeting of the City Council on February 12th, Strome sneaks the Police Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner into an Executive Session of City Council on the specious grounds that because individuals will be impacted by the proposed reorganization the entire discussion should be withheld from the public.
This is contradicted by some rather obvious facts.
The police department reorganization was the subject of a public meeting of the Municipal Civil Service Commission and already deemed to be a public matter. I interviewed Police Commissioner Carroll and City Manager Chuck Strome about this matter at length and have written several articles about it. The departmental reorganization will also be the subject of a public meeting of the New York State Civil Service Commission should the day come when the APC Job Specification is considered by the NYS CSC. The resolution now proposed is public as will any vote this coming Tuesday.
When questioned about the legal basis for discussing public business in secret, Strome said Corporation Counsel Kathleen Gill determined that the executive session was legal because the City Council discussed specific employees and funding of their positions and that Council will have to approve to put and fund the Assistant Commissioner positions in the budget.
This is utter nonsense. The issue is not whether a discussion of creating or abolishing a position impacts a particular person. That is always the case. The issue is whether the discussion focuses on a "particular person" and how well or poorly an individual has performed his or her duties.
The City Council routinely discusses budget matters that impact personnel. 70% of the City Budget is for salaries and related costs. Most discussions of the City Council have some impact on personnel.
So far, the City Manager has failed to address a request to square that claim with the New York State Committee on Open Government Advisory Opinion OML-AO-3474. I would encourage you to click the link and read the entire opinion but here are the highlights.
COOG Executive Director Robert Freeman writes "When a discussion by a public body involves consideration of a budget, I believe that it must be conducted in public. Often a discussion concerning the budget has an impact on personnel. Nevertheless, despite its frequent use, the term "personnel" appears nowhere in the Open Meetings Law. It is true that one of the grounds for entry into executive session often relates to personnel matters. From my perspective, however, the term is overused and is frequently cited in a manner that is misleading or causes unnecessary confusion."
Freeman goes on to note how public bodies often use the so-called "personnel" exception, §105(1)(f) of the Open Meetings Law to justify doing the public's business in secret, going on to say "the provision was intended largely to protect privacy and not to shield matters of policy under the guise of privacy."
That is precisely the case here.
The secret meeting on Tuesday was not to discuss specific individuals but to discuss the justification for creating new positions in the police department in the adopted 2013 budget and providing funding for those positions. That any particular individual's name was even mentioned would have been purely tangential to such a discussion.
Even if there was any legitimate discussion of a particular individual that required Executive Session the Council should have had the entire discussion in public session as a regular agenda discussion item and then entertained a motion to go into executive session briefly to discuss any confidential matter regarding a particular individual and then come right back out. Instead, the City Council threw the baby out with the bathwater -- the baby here being the public's right to know, especially when it comes to spending taxpayer money.
Corporation Counsel Kathleen Gill claims that the Executive Session was legal because the City Council discussed specific employees and funding of their positions and that Council will have to approve to put and fund the Assistant Commissioner positions in the budget.
That's exactly why the discussion should have been public, according to Robert Freeman.
"When a discussion concerns matters of policy, such as the manner in which public money will be expended or allocated, the functions of a department or perhaps the creation or elimination of positions, I do not believe that §105(1)(f) could be asserted, even though the discussion may relate to "personnel".
Could Freeman be more clear?
"If a discussion of possible layoffs relates to positions and whether those positions should be retained or abolished, the discussion would involve the means by which public monies would be allocated. In none of the instances described would the focus involve a "particular person" and how well or poorly an individual has performed his or her duties. To reiterate, in order to enter into an executive session pursuant to §105(1)(f), I believe that the discussion must focus on a particular person (or persons) in relation to a topic listed in that provision (emphasis added).
The Police Captains in question are Captains Schaller, Kealy and Gazzola. Strome refers to the APC as "their" positions in his response to Talk of the Sound.
The position of Police Captain is already funded so there is no reason for Council to discuss funding existing positions that are already funded in the current budget. Even if there were, the City Council routinely discusses the funding for various positions. In fact, the City has entire hearings devoted to that each year during budget season. They are called budget hearings and they impact every person working for the City and they take place in public.
There is currently no position of Assistant Police Commissioner. So, there is no "their" when it comes to the APC positions because no one is in those positions. No one has been appointed to this position because the position does not exist.
Perhaps "their" means the Council was discussing funding of a proposed position called "Assistant Police Commissioner "per the Police Commissioner's August 2012 memo and the APC Job Spec approved by the CSC in October 2012. If that is the case then the use of the word "their" does not apply.
No matter how you slice it, this argument does not hold water.
At least one change has come about due to Talk of the Sound reporting on this farce. After falsely claiming for months the City Council has no role in the reorganization of a City department, that the City Manager can act unilaterally with Council input or approval, the City Manager is now admitting that the City Council does have a decisive role in such a reorganization. They can vote not to include the new position in the adopted 2013 budget.
The City Manager admits now that the reorganization cannot occur with the approval of City Council when he states the City Council has to vote to approve putting the new position in the budget and to fund that position.
In other words, the City Council has a mechanism through which it can block this proposed reorganization should it wish to do so. Further, that it would not be correct to say that the City Manager can, on his own authority, carry out this reorganization. The opposite is the case.
Council members might want to consider how reliable the City Manager has been on this subject and what it suggests about his veracity overall in regards to this charade.
Of course, this Scheme goes beyond pension padding.
1. The salary range for the new position will allow Captain's salaries to skyrocket from the $140's to over $170,000 so that not only will Captains get a much larger percentage of their salary as their pension when they retire (going from 50% to over 70%, depending their years of service) but the salary itself will be much larger. A large piece of a much larger pie.
2. This will eliminate any retirement age for the position of Captain/APC.
§ 58-4 1B of the New Rochelle City Code states: "Each member of the police force shall retire upon reaching his 62nd birthday."
Captain Schaller turned 62 last summer. Captain Kealy will turn 62 soon. The City Manager has made the preposterous claim that because New York State increased the retirement age for the State pension program, known as 384-d, to age 65 in 2009 that the retirement age in New Rochelle is now 65. This is completely false. The State pension system does not decide the retirement age for New Rochelle, the City Council makes that decision and they have which is why § 58-4 1B is in the City Code.
3. As noted, the City Manager has stopped telling Council Members they have no role in the reorganization of the police department, a clear contradiction of the City Charter.
Section 59 of the New Rochelle City Charter states that the Police Department "shall as to their membership and organization remain as now constituted until the same shall be changed by the Council."
4. Eliminate Civil Service protections for Captains while weakening the Superior Officers Association by removing the three most senior members.
Consider the impact on morale. Consider the impact on younger Lieutenants who are now going to be blocked for many, many years from advancing on the department. Will our best and brightest now leave? Who will be left? Will we end up with a department run by octogenarians?
5. One of the primary justifications for the proposed reorganizations is the supposed conflict of interest of police captains in disciplinary hearings where they might be a hearing officer in a case involving a fellow member of the Superior Officers Association. As noted above, since Patrick Carroll became Police Commissioner this situation has occurred ZERO times. There were two cases where Sergeants were arrested on criminal charges but there was no disciplinary hearing needed due to the charges against them.
6. A large part of this has to do with the New Rochelle Police Foundation which Patrick Carroll controls and uses to extract large sums of money from local businesses.
There are other angles to this but suffice to say this is an elaborate scheme meant to enrich public employees at the expense of taxpayers and need be stopped in its track.