NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- At the recommendation of New Rochelle Police Commissioner Patrick J. Carroll, the City of New Rochelle is moving forward with plans to reorganize the police department. The most significant change is a proposed reclassification of the position of Police Captain as a civilian position. The department currently has three police captains who will be impacted by the change -- Captain Robert Gazzola, Captain Joseph Schaller and Captain Kevin Kealy.
The new job classification of Assistant Police Commissioner was first made public by John Imburgia following the October 17th meeting of the New Rochelle Civil Service. Imburgia, who writes the Civil Service Watch column for Talk of the Sound, attends and video tapes every CSC meeting and collects all available public records. Videos and documents are then published on Talk of the Sound.
Strome says the motivation for the change is driven by staffing considerations and the current financial environment.
"We have been considering this for quite some time but it is very involved," said Strome. "The duties of the captains have evolved over time. One is now a lawyer and actually handles discipline - saving the city a lot of money by not having to use an outside labor attorney. There are also 207-c Disability cases which can be very complicated."
New Rochelle Police Detective Captain Joseph Schaller is a licensed attorney in New York State.
Strome added that making the proposed changes requires approval of several state agencies and the local civil service commission and the employees involved.
"In short," said Strome. "There was a lot to do before moving forward and we felt now was the right time to do so."
The proposed change has caused some resentment within the police department where police have been working without a contract for several years and promotions have been stalled.
There has been some speculation within the department that changing captain's positions into a civilian position would effectively increase pension benefits for police captains working under the new job title.
Strome did not deny that pension benefits might increase but noted that it was up to New York State to determine what pension system would apply to the new position of Assistant Police Commissioner. Strome said the City might pay less if a change in pension system is made.
"If they were moved into the civilian pension system," said Strome. "The City would save money because the City contribution is less for that system than it is for the police system."
There has been further speculation that the proposed changes were driven by considerations over the retirement age of Schaller and Kealy who are older than Gazzola.
"Mandatory retirement age was never part of the discussion," said Strome who described the issue as "quite complicated".
"To my knowledge, there are several different retirement systems," said Strome. "384-d, the system the captains are currently in, requires retirement at 62 but if you stay longer you automatically moved into 384-j which allows you to stay until you are 65. There is no mandatory retirement age in the Employee Retirement System, the civilian pension system which is where they would move if this were implemented. In short, they can stay until they are 65 as Captains. With the proposed change, the could stay past 65 but I am sure neither would be staying past that age."
Strome said the job specifications for the new position had to be first reviewed by the local Civil Service Commission before being sent on to the New York Civil Service Commission in Albany.
There was some confusions among members of the Civil Service Commission as to whether the job specifications were finalized or merely proposed and that they might change. At that October CSC meeting, Civil Service Administrator Jeanette Medina told Commissioners that the job specifications were "pending a probable change in the police department".
Asked by CSC Member Rev. Feston Leek whether the document presented to the commission were "tentative job specifications", Medina answered without directly addressing Leek's question.
"Once they are approved they would be in our file as job specs," said Medina. "It doesn't necessarily mean we have a new job or a new position it means we have a new job specs".
The Commission -- Domenic Procopio, Margaret Chadwick and Rev. Feston Leek -- unanimously approved the Assistant Police Commissioner job specifications after a discussion of just under one minute.
When contacted for this story, there was some confusion among members of City Council as well.
Council Members Jared Rice (District-3), Al Tarantino (District-2), Louis Trangucci (District-1), Shari Rackman (District-6) and Ivar Hyden (District-4)all initially stated that they did not recall a discussion about any proposed reorganization of the police department or the creation of the position of Assistant Police Commissioner.
Reminded by Strome in a recent email of an executive session several months ago where the topic was raised, several Council members said they did vaguely recall some brief discussion.
"I do now remember mention of what at the time seemed like a relatively small matter relating to police restructuring," said Hyden. "It was to be brought up sometime in the future. It was several months ago and I don't remember the details."
City Manager Chuck Strome was not precise on the time frame.
"I can't remember the exact date," said Strome. "The memo from the Police Commissioner that was distributed, and collected back, at the meeting is dated August 20 therefore the executive session was either on September 12 or October 11."
"I am sure this is something that will be brought up soon at a Council Meeting", said Albert Tarantino.
As to why the matter was discussed in executive session and not publicly, Strome said Corporation Counsel Kathleen Gill advised that the matter was appropriate for executive session because the proposed reorganization would have an impact on individual employees.
Strome pointed out that the formal decision on the new job specifications was made by the Civil Service Commission in a public meeting.
During the executive session, Strome says he explained to Council Members that as police captain duties are clearly management/confidential responsibilities it made sense to remove them from the Superior Officers bargaining unit. Police captains, he says, are often involved in disciplinary actions against members of the union to which they belong.
John Imburgia contributed to this article.