By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Following a hearing evidencing a split in public sentiment, Monticello’s village board voted 3-2 on Tuesday to create a police commission.
More than a dozen speakers talked to the board about the commission, with nine opposed, four in support and the rest simply asking questions.
“I’m in the community, and I speak to people, and I don’t hear complaints,” village resident and policeman Jason Corley related to the board. “... We have good police officers in the community. ... This commission is wrong.”
Others, however, supported it.
“I’m very saddened at the morale of this community,” said resident Shannon Daniel, who’s running for a trustee seat this March. “... You walk into the post office and say hello to an officer, and they look at you like you have two heads. ... [They] ought to be pushed to be out in the community a little more.”
At times, the packed room got contentious, with accusations of politics, favoritism and power-grabbing being lobbed from both sides. Even subtle allegations of racism surfaced, though both the pro and con camps featured a mix of blacks and whites.
Several speakers opposed to the commission nevertheless urged the board to consider creating a citizens advisory panel fully independent of the board, or utilizing the existing Human Rights Commission.
But the board majority ultimately moved to create the police commission. Mayor Gordon Jenkins, Deputy Mayor TC Hutchins and Trustee James Matthews voted in favor, while trustees Victor Marinello and Carmen Rue voted against.
“I really feel this is a vote of no-confidence in the manager ... and our chief,” Rue argued.
“I think this is something necessary for the board,” said Hutchins. “I look at it as a service to the police department and the people of the community ... to give the community an outlet if they have any concerns, positive or negative.”
Jenkins believes the majority of the village’s 7,000 residents support the police commission, alleging that some were too scared to come out and speak in support that evening.
“A lot of minorities here fear the police they don’t trust them,” the mayor explained.
“What we’re looking for is some accountability in the village,” he added, saying he wanted more input into a police force he feels is averse to change. “... Our police officers have to realize they work for the taxpayers.”
“I don’t feel I’ve ever turned my back on anybody who needed help in this community ... or any of you board members either,” Police Chief Doug Solomon told the trustees after the vote. “... I’m here to continue to serve the community.”
Wednesday morning, Solomon met with the newly-constituted commission, which consists of Jenkins as chair, Hutchins and resident Bess Davis.
According to Village Manager John LiGreci, they’ll serve until the village’s reorganizational meeting in March at which time the results of the upcoming village election will shape the commission’s future.
Whomever is elected mayor will serve as chair (possibly to become a paid position) and will get to choose both a village board member and a resident to serve with him on the commission, subject to the board’s approval.
In the meantime, Jenkins is accepting letters and calls of interest at the village hall (2 Pleasant Street, 794-6130, ext. 304) from those wishing to serve as the village resident member of the commission.
LiGreci and Jenkins said Wednesday’s meeting of the commission was informal (the new law creating the commission is not yet in legal force) but that the official gatherings of the commission will be open to the public starting in January, after the just-adopted law is filed with the state.
However, it might not convene at all, if the police officers’ union convinces a court to issue a stay while it challenges the new law.
“We need a board that’s fair and impartial. This is not it,” Monticello PBA President John Riegler told trustees Tuesday night, noting that the board never approached the union with this idea.
“We have a PBA contract that makes no mention of a commission,” he pointed out. “And I can assure you, if this is pushed down our throats, we’re going to fight this.”
The next day, Riegler said that’s exactly what the PBA will do by filing suit.
“I don’t believe this commission is lawful,” he remarked. “... This is a power trip by the people involved.”
The PBA has the support of District Attorney Jim Farrell, who was present at Tuesday’s meeting but did not speak.
This week he told the Democrat he plans to research his own ability to take action on a commission whose creation and rules he finds “troubling.”
In particular, he’s worried confidential investigations will be compromised.
“Politics and police work are a dangerous combination,” Farrell said.
In the meantime, Solomon may be departing in the new year, as he and the village are hammering out the final details of his retirement pay.
This week, the City of Beacon announced Solomon is one of two finalists for its open police chief position.