Council freezes PAB hiring as investigation cleared

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

The move follows the suspension of the council’s executive director, Conor Dwyer Reynolds, and an apparent flurry of human resources complaints among agency members. Board President Miguel Meléndez, at a special meeting Thursday night, outlined a three-pronged plan to address board-related issues.

The Police Accountability Commission would first be authorized to enter into a professional services agreement with outside legal counsel to investigate problems at the PAB. The Board would freeze hiring and put all expenses at the sole discretion of Meléndez and Chief of Staff James Smith while the investigation is ongoing. Finally, the Council would be authorized to create a temporary committee to follow up on any recommendations at the end of the investigation.

“We are not the human resources department of the PAB, and we don’t go into details about personnel issues,” Meléndez said. “As the citizens of Rochester patiently await an update, it is imperative that an independent outside entity take on the task of investigating all allegations and provide the Council and the PAB with recommendations.”

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

Council members held a closed meeting Wednesday night to address council issues.

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

The measure allowing an independent investigation was approved unanimously. Council member Stanley Martin was the lone dissenter on both the hiring freeze and the temporary committee bills.

Martin expressed concern about Smith’s oversight of PAB spending, as well as what she described as vague language used to define the temporary committee. According to the plan approved by the Board, Smith would approve all expenditures of the PAB under the direction of Meléndez

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

Reynolds, a former guest lecturer at Yale Law School, was tapped to lead the agency in late 2020. In 2021, the council received a $5 million budget from Mayor Lovely Warren.

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

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

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

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