City admits mistake, says PAB director can hire staff
The Rochester Police Accountability Board’s executive director is free to hire his own staff, city attorneys said Friday, walking back a letter that stated any hires needed the City Council president’s approval.
What may seem like a minor miscommunication grew out of a nearly year long conflict between city officials and the Police Accountability Board over the amount of autonomy the agency has.
During a news conference Friday, City Council President Loretta Scott stood with city attorneys and members of City Council and stated that the Police Accountability Board’s executive director, Conor Dwyer Reynolds, was free to use the agency’s $5 million budget to hire staff. The board itself will answer to City Council, which has to approve the executive director’s hiring and confirm the appointment of new board members.
The conflict between some Councilmembers and the Police Accountability Board started with Reynolds' confirmation in November. Reynolds had penned a legal memo asserting the board’s independence, to which some Council members expressed deep concern.
The back and forth continued and in August, city human resources director Tassie Demps issued a letter stating that hiring authority for the PAB staff rested not with the board but with the president of City Council.
“It may be surprising to you, but not every person that works for the city is perfect,” Deputy Corporation Counsel Patrick Beath said. “Ms. Demps was mistaken when she expressed that Council President Scott was the appointing authority.”
Beath said as much in a brief passage buried near the bottom of a legal memo he issued Friday. The memo was written in response to a missive from the Police Accountability Board’s legal counsel, Philip Urofsky, earlier this week asserting the agency’s ability to hire independent of Council.
Despite the city’s error, Scott, an early champion of the Police Accountability Board, expressed dismay with the operations of the board, which was created nearly two years ago and has yet to complete an investigation. Reynolds in particular was a target of her criticism.
“We knew there would be growing pains as the PAB laid their foundation and navigated the complicated nature of being a government entity,” Scott said. “But we never anticipated that those growing pains would be birthed and nurtured by the PAB itself.”
Beath emphasized that the board was always supposed to operate independent of the Rochester Police Department, which ran its predecessor, the Civilian Review Board.
“References to ‘independence’ and ‘autonomy’ (in the City Charter) are references to independence and autonomy from the RPD,” Beath said. “And at the time, that was a new thing.”
Reynolds said he now plans to begin the hiring process to fill positions, including those of general counsel, staff attorney, and investigators. He ultimately hopes to have a paid staff of 55, though the board will work to fill 20 positions immediately. The PAB currently has three paid staff members.
Reynolds said he believes the months-long conflict with Council is, hopefully, over.
“I think what this is, is this process of getting things worked out,” Reynolds said. “We knew there was going to be friction, but I think the most important thing is that we continue to move forward.”
Scott also emphasized she still supports the mission of the board, despite butting heads with Reynolds, and hopes that the board begins its investigation process. Attorneys representing Council are still battling a June decision from a state appeals court which upheld a previous ruling that stripped the board of its ability to discipline officers.
Reynolds said the board is investigating several high-profile incidents, including the pepper-spraying of a 9-year-old girl on Harris Street in February. The board, he said, plans to comply with all other expectations the city has of it as an agency.
“I think (Council) will have that traditional oversight role,” Reynolds said. “They set our budget, they confirm me, they confirm our board members, they have to approve of our spending like any other part of city government. It’s going to be a relationship.”
Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at (585) 775-9692 or email@example.com.