NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- Asked to express confidence in City Manager Charles B. Strome by approving a controversial plan to reorganize the New Rochelle Police Department, the City Council responded by roundly defeating the plan in a bi-partisan 5-2 vote. Democrats Shari Rackman, Ivar Hyden and Jared Rice joined Republicans Lou Trangucci and Al Tarantino in voting against the administration's plan. Mayor Noam Bramson and Barry Fertel voted for the plan.
Before calling a roll call vote on the council measure, in a room packed with off-duty officers from the New Rochelle Police Department, Bramson took the unusual step of making the vote a referendum on Strome's leadership.
"If we're not going to trust the City Manager in this, we should get a new City Manager," said Bramson.
City Clerk Bennie Giles read the roll.
The measure failed 2-5.
The vote was a stunning rebuke not just for the City Manager and Police Commissioner but for Bramson.
The resolution was an Ordinance to amend the 2013 Budget to establish three Assistant Police Commissioner positions. Over the past week the Mayor and City Manager have sought to portray the vote as a required procedural step with no special significance.
During a robust question and answer session, with Police Commissioner Carroll at the City Council table, the six Council members engaged the Commissioner, the City Manager and each other. Mayor Bramson watched but said nothing.
Time and time again, Carroll and Strome provided misleading, incorrect or inaccurate information.
Shari Rackman was tenacious.
After Lou Trangucci asked Carroll how many disciplinary hearings for Sergeants, Lieutenants and Captains had occurred during his time as Police Commissioner. Strome answered for him.
"I came prepared for that question," said Strome. "There were 54 command discipline cases."
Rackman followed up, demanding to know how many hearings had been held.
Carroll meekly offered an answer, "a handful".
This statement is false. During his time as Commissioner there have been zero disciplinary hearings for superior officers.
Jared Rice came with a number of good questions.
He wanted to know if converting police captains to a civilian position had any precedent in taking people out of their union. There was no answer.
Rice asked a pointed question about the issue of retirement age for members of the police department. Strome implied that the decision on the retirement age of a member of the police department in New Rochelle was decided by the New York State pension system. This is false. Each municipality in New York State decides its own retirement age. The New Rochelle City Code states the retirement age to be 62.
Rice stumped the City Manager and Police Commissioner after Carroll stated that the main justification for the reorganization was that in the current system, if someone were ranked 5 or 6 in the Captain's eligibility list he could not select them if he had to replace the current three captains.
Rice said that Carroll could pick the 5th person in replacing the third captain if all three were replaced. Carroll and Strome confidently insisted this was not the case.
Rice was correct. In replacing the first Captain, the Police Commissioner would have to select from 1 of 3 on the eligibility list. For the second Captain, 1 of the first 3 on the list would now be a Captain and so the 4th person on the list would move into the top 4. For the third Captain, the 5th person would now be among the top 3 as two would now be Captains.
Carroll admitted that the current system worked pretty well, in response to a question from Al Tarantino, while arguing that the current system did not work which is why he wanted to change it.
Strome said the Council had been exposed to the proposal since August, 2012. This statement was false. Strome told Talk of the Sound he first shared a memo on the proposed reorganization with Council in October. Most Council members said they had no recollection of seeing the memo and that the first they heard about it was from Talk of the Sound.
Bramson made an incoherent argument based on the odd notion that since no one on Council had been a member of a police force none of the was fit to make an independent judgement and should be deferential to the wishes of the Police Commissioner.
No one on the City Council has worked in a job driving a garbage truck or filling pot holes either. The Mayor has never made a similar argument about budget votes on the DPW.
More to the point, Bramson has never worked as a fire fighter but he routinely votes against the recommendations of the leadership of the New Rochelle Fire Department.
Bramson began his soliloquy by accusing Council Members of "failing to see the forest from the trees" before criticizing Council Members for their "exploration of minutia" and "overstepping a wise course of action for a City Council".
Bramson came across as angry and exasperated that elected officials at the table might have their own concerns and questions independent of the Mayor's deference to Mr. Carroll.
Tarantino asked the best question of the night. After repeatedly implying that the vote was a required technical measure to satisfy the state government, Tarantino asked whether, after the vote tonight, the City Manager would return to Council for any further approvals. Carroll and Strome responded with silence before Strome finally answered "no".
The five members of City Council who voted the plan down did a great thing for New Rochelle. Not only did they defeat a ploy by the administration to enrich their friends at taxpayer's expense but they sent a strong message against the sort of deceptive legislative maneuvering that has occurred in bringing this matter to a vote.
Rackman, Rice, Tarantino, Trangucci and Hyden had clearly done their homework and peppered Carroll and Strome with well-aimed questions. In the end Carroll and Strome had no real answers and resorted to pleading.
Even before Bramson's "No Confidence" vote, Strome had turned the resolution into a loyalty vote.
"This is your administration recommending this," said Strome.
Rackman, Rice, Tarantino, Trangucci and Hyden were unmoved by Strome or Bramson.
The political ramifications for Bramson remain to be seen. He went "all in" when he said the Council should get another City Manager if they voted against the City Manager. Members of his own party, including Rice who serves on his campaign committee for Westchester County Executive, voted against the Mayor.