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Council freezes PAB hiring as investigation authorized

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CITY Magazine
Rochester City Hall

The Rochester City Council has voted to freeze hiring by the Police Accountability Board as it authorizes an independent investigation into the board.

The move follows the suspension of the board’s executive director, Conor Dwyer Reynolds, and an apparent flurry of human resources complaints made among members of the agency. Council President Miguel Meléndez, in a special meeting Thursday evening, introduced a three-pronged plan to deal with issues related to the board.

The Police Accountability Board would first be authorized to enter into a professional services agreement with outside legal counsel to investigate the issues at the PAB. Council would freeze hiring and put all expenses under the sole discretion of Meléndez and Chief of Staff James Smith for the duration of the investigation. Finally, Council would be allowed to create a temporary committee to act upon any recommendations at the conclusion of the investigation.

“We are not the PAB’s HR Department, and we do not get into the weeds on personnel issues,” Meléndez said. “While the citizens of Rochester are patiently awaiting an update, it is imperative that an independent outside entity take on the task of investigating all allegations, and provide Council and PAB with recommendations.”

Last week, Reynolds, the executive director, was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation. It is still unclear what circumstances prompted the suspension of Reynolds, and members of the board have declined to comment.

Councilmembers held a meeting Wednesday evening behind closed doors to address the board’s issues.

Melendez said Thursday’s meeting would be the last time Council would meet publicly to discuss the issue until the completion of the investigation, which is expected to take up to a month and a half.

The measure to allow an independent investigation was unanimously approved. Councilmember Stanley Martin was the sole dissenter on both the hiring freeze and the temporary committee bills.

Martin expressed concern over Smith’s overseeing of PAB spending, as well as what she described as vague language used to define the temporary committee. Under the plan approved by Council, Smith would be approving any PAB expenditures at the direction of Meléndez

The Police Accountability Board was created in 2019 after nearly three-quarters of city voters approved of forming the organization. The board was tasked with the mission of investigating complaints of misconduct in the Rochester Police Department, creating a so-called “disciplinary matrix” for sustained complaints of misconduct, and disciplining officers. The latter power is still being hashed out in the courts after being struck down twice in previous rulings.

Reynolds, a former visiting lecturer at Yale Law School, was tapped to lead the agency in late 2020. In 2021, the board was granted a $5 million budget by Mayor Lovely Warren.

Mayor Malik Evans last week approved a renewal of the $5 million annual budget, but the number still needs Council approval.

Council will hold its budget hearing on the Police Accountability Board on Monday.

Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at (585) 775-9692 or gino@rochester-citynews.com.