Mayor, Trustee Clash Over Police Review

Also, Cold Spring continues water battle with NYC

Cold Spring Mayor Dave Merandy and Trustee Kathleen Foley clashed at the Tuesday (Jan. 12) meeting of the Village Board over public input into a state-mandated review of the Police Department. 

Last year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered all municipal police forces to complete a comprehensive review of their policies and procedures by April 1. In December, the village hired Lexipol, a consulting firm, to recommend updates to its police policies, which haven’t been revised since 2013. 

Several times during Tuesday’s meeting, which was held via Zoom because of COVID-19 restrictions, Merandy stated emphatically that he felt it was too early in the review process for public input.

“I don’t think we should be moving ahead with getting public comment until the board agrees on a policy and we talk to Lexipol to see what they can offer us,” Merandy said. “I think you’re putting the cart before the horse.” 

Foley, who took office in December, advocated the opposite.

“As a first step, we can identify where we are as a community in terms of our relationship with” police and how the public perceives officers, she said, suggesting a survey and recruiting volunteers to assist. 

That didn’t sit well with Merandy. 

“It seems you want to go out right now, get a committee together to put out a survey to get input from the community, before we have a policy,” he said, adding that a draft would provide something for residents to respond to.

Foley said the mayor misunderstood her point. “I’m not saying right now that we want public comment on a particular policy; I’m suggesting we follow the work plan laid out in the governor’s order,” which emphasizes public input. 

During the 45-minute back-and-forth, after he was interrupted by Foley, Merandy exclaimed, “I’m talking, for [expletive] sake! You keep interrupting me!”

“I’m sorry Dave,” Foley replied. “You don’t need to use that language.”  

“That’s too bad; quit interrupting me,” the mayor said. 

A few minutes later, Foley chided Merandy for interrupting her. 

Foley and Officer-in-Charge Larry Burke recently sat in on a meeting of the Kent Town Board. The town had received more than 200 responses to a survey of residents as part of its Police Department review. 

Foley and Burke were scheduled to meet with Lexipol for the first time on Jan. 14. 

Commenting on the review, Trustee Heidi Bender, who also took office in December, said: “We’re doing this for our village, to make a better relationship with our community and our Police Department,” adding that gathering feedback early is a valuable part of the process. “It’s why the governor made this directive in the first place — to improve these relationships.”

Before the meeting adjourned, Bender addressed the mayor. 

“It’s important to me, Dave, that you acknowledge the way you spoke to Kathleen, to the board and to the public,” she said. “You’re the mayor and we look to you for a code of conduct. To me, that was not becoming of a mayor. “

“Duly noted,” Merandy replied. “I’m not apologizing or anything at this point.”

“Well, that’s noted, then,” Bender said. 

A rare area of agreement was that, while the village does not expect to complete the review by the April 1 deadline, that should not be an issue. 

“What’s critical for us to demonstrate by April 1 is that we’ve made a good faith effort to move into automated [policy] updating and [officer] training,” Foley said. 

Tap still off

The seemingly never-ending saga of Cold Spring’s attempt to connect to the Catskill Aqueduct so it can repair its reservoirs has taken an odd twist. 

At Tuesday’s board meeting, Superintendent of Water and Wastewater Matt Kroog reported that during a morning conference call on Jan. 7, officials with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees the aqueduct, said the village would finally be able to make the connection. 

Three hours later, he said, the agency called to say approval would not be forthcoming. The village has been negotiating with DEP for about 13 years. 

“They keep moving the goal posts,” Merandy said. “It leaves us back at square one. We’re in limbo.” 

The mayor said DEP wants Nelsonville and Philipstown to form their own water district before the connection can be approved. Nelsonville and fewer than a dozen Philipstown residents use Cold Spring’s water system. 

But forming a water district isn’t the problem, Merandy said. “Basically, they are asking for a separate water system for Nelsonville, which is just not realistic.” 

Merandy said he will seek support for the water district from Philipstown Supervisor Richard Shea and Nelsonville Mayor Michael Bowman before going back to the DEP to argue that a separate, new system for Nelsonville “would be impossible.” 

Cold Spring has hired David Merzig, an attorney who represented New Paltz in a similar dispute with DEP. Merandy said Merzig will reach out to DEP in another attempt to move the project forward. 

“This is criminal,” Foley commented. “Clean drinking water is a right. “ 

In other business …

■ Code Enforcement Officer Charlotte Mountain will soon begin fire inspections for all multi-family, commercial and mixed-use buildings in the village. The state Uniform Building Code requires the inspections every three years. Citing economic hardships caused by COVID-19, the Village Board reduced the inspection fee from $75 to $50 for 2021. The fee for re-inspections remains $50. 

■ Cold Spring police officers responded to 46 calls for service in December and issued 38 traffic and 54 parking tickets. One arrest was made when a motorist was charged with driving with a suspended registration. The fire department answered 10 calls in December, for a total of 170 during the year.

10 thoughts on “Mayor, Trustee Clash Over Police Review

  1. With our nation in its current state, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for the community to take a fresh look at the village’s policing policy, and provide input sooner than later. I also think our mayor should exercise a little more patience with new perspectives being presented in an ever-growing and evolving community, such as ours.

  2. The best thing that Cold Spring could do with regard to its completely unnecessary police department, would be to follow Putnam Valley’s lead and simply abolish it.

    For the life of me I will never understand why some people feel that they need three police departments (village, sheriff and state police) to patrol their tiny, crime-free village. It would make perfect financial sense to get rid of this expensive budget line. If they want public input on the PD, maybe they should ask residents if they even want one.

  3. Wow! Right here in river city! Following the attack on our nation’s Capitol, which crowned the 4-year reign of POTUS #45, he has admitted no wrongdoing; instead, insisting that his words on Jan. 6 were entirely appropriate. Reading the piece over the weekend, it seems Mayor Merandy likewise feels no ownership of the words he uses, nor does he admit to their impropriety.

    I was gobsmacked in learning of Merandy’s position vis a vis establishing policy as it relates to local policing, one which reeks of top-down imposition, rather than the kind of process Gov. Cuomo has recommended, and which newcomers to the Board of Trustees, Kathleen Foley and Heidi Bender both seem to support, and have some experience with.

    But this!

    During the 45-minute back-and-forth, after he was interrupted by Foley,
    Merandy exclaimed, “I’m talking, for [expletive] sake! You keep interrupting me!”
    “I’m sorry Dave,” Foley replied. “You don’t need to use that language.”
    “That’s too bad; quit interrupting me,” the mayor said.

    Followed by this:

    Before the meeting adjourned, Bender addressed the mayor.
    “It’s important to me, Dave, that you acknowledge the way you spoke to Kathleen, to the board and to the public,” she said. “You’re the mayor and we look to you for a code of conduct. To me, that was not becoming of a mayor. “
    “Duly noted,” Merandy replied. “I’m not apologizing or anything at this point.”
    “Well, that’s noted, then,” Bender said.

    One needs to hold those who don’t hold themselves accountable, accountable. Brava, Trustee Bender and Trustee Foley, for your persistence!

  4. This went on for upward of 45 minutes?

    Let me start with my skepticism and my concerns over the communications and the reporting processes. Clearly there is a major disagreement reported here between the mayor and two trustees, among other issues, over proper conduct in a Village Board meeting between elected officials. I wonder how this exchange might have played out had the meeting been held in person. Would the close presence of other eyes as to both the verbal exchanges as well as that of body language have had a possibly improved communications, or at least a moderating, effect? Or even without other eyes, just between these officials, would the communication have been better? I am guessing, at least now, for our village, these remote meetings are nearing the limits of their utility.

    Certainly there are a range of stressful and pressing issues at hand, and a range of interpretations as to the priorities and to how to go about addressing them. I don’t know exactly how it could be done, but somehow we have to get back to in-person meetings, even if that means unfortunate limits in the number of attendees in the audience, and even if that means some investments need to be made for public safety, e.g., better ventilation, cleaning stations, or the like.

    As to the reporting — and by the way none of this should be taken to imply bad faith on anyone’s part — but in my experience, to learn what is happening in our government in-person attendance is far the most superior method while the reading of the best-they-can-be-with-the-current-resources (our two local papers) reports of the meetings is second rank, as to understanding all the dynamics. I can tell you most of the time these meetings are quite uneventful, mundane and boring. Seemingly a waste of time. But not always.

    On to the issues. Personally I do not see priorities are in the right places. While all issues have some validity, I am going to go ahead and state where I would place them:

    1) Public safety, specifically as relates to the non-subsiding COVID pandemic, whatever that may be and wherever it came from, and is going. But not limited to that: I would include vehicular traffic and parking issues, and the cleanliness and safety of the streets and side walks.
    2) Local economic conditions: how to manage an acceptable level of local economic activity so as not to disrupt or damage the lives or health, physical and otherwise, of residents, business operators, and visitors.

    These are the priorities I would like to see the board investing more of its time addressing.

    For one specific example, and tying these two items together, I do not see how allowing the village streets and sidewalks to be continually trashed with all manner of rubbish and other items, plastic gloves, masks, beverage containers, bits of plastic and similar, and yes, dog shit, is conducive to either of items 1) or 2). Just today, walking Main Street, I saw three separate cases of feces on the sidewalk, one in front of one of our better restaurants. And this is hardly unusual. How is this condition good for anything? Do not blame the county, or otherwise pass the buck, please. Do what you can with what is within your powers to do.

  5. As someone who has been professionally and personally involved with policing and criminal justice reform for several decades, I was particularly interested in the recent debate by the Cold Spring trustees about our local police force.

    Is it policy over process, or the reverse? At the moment, it’s neither. We need more data on what the Cold Spring Police Department does before we can discuss how well it is doing and what needs to change, if anything

    Some of the questions include: How many calls does the CSPD respond to monthly, and for what reasons? How many traffic tickets does it write weekly, and for what? How many arrests does it make annually, and for what reasons? Do the arrests end in convictions? Do the police collect demographics in these categories?
    Are there salient trends? Does recruitment jibe with the tasks at hand?

    We could all learn a lot from these numbers, and then we can have a robust and helpful discussion about the public’s perceptions and proper policies.

  6. I support the idea of an initial survey of our community to assess police reform. The relationship between the police and public they serve is foundational to their success, and a survey would allow the village to understand how residents relate to police officers. This provides the public not only an opportunity to raise any concerns, but to share what we value about the Police Department and its officers.

  7. It would be beneficial to reach out to the community now rather than at the end of the process. It’s a reasonable course of action, demonstrated by the fact that neighboring towns such as Kent are conducting their reviews this way.

  8. The mayor referred to “putting the cart before the horse,” but it’s not clear what is the cart and what is the horse. If public opinion is not allowed to inform public policy, will policy stifle opinion? To me, a better analogy is walking and chewing gum at the same time. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s order was clear that “local government shall convene … stakeholders in the community” when developing the reform plan.

    His order was issued on June 12. Seven months later, village trustees are still debating how to begin. The April 1 deadline is not the deadline for reluctantly taking the first step. It is the date by which the local administration must have finished the process: collecting community input, drafting a plan to “reform and reinvent” the police, collecting community responses to the plan, revising it accordingly and passing it into law.

    Given Cold Spring’s failure to act so far, we can’t waste more time. Let’s walk (solicit public input with a neutral survey that encourages the expression of all points of view) and chew gum (work with the consultants hired by the village to research policy options).

  9. A quick note from a village resident to throw my support behind a community survey before engaging Lexapol further. It seems like the natural thing to do and I was quite surprised to hear the opposition to the idea, and the implied feeling that it would be a purely negative exercise, which I don’t believe to be the case at all. It’s much more important to embark on the review of police policies in an informed capacity rather than rush things just to meet the April deadline.

    With the last update being in 2013, and the make up of the community and general atmosphere changing so very much since that time, it only seems logical to seek some guide from the community to help inform the brief we then give to Lexapol. It would be a shame to embark on a scope of work with them based on assumptions made by few, rather than the informed, collective opinion.

    It’s more work, yes, but with new trustees so passionately advocating for this and offering their time and thought on it, I simply don’t understand the resistance to it.

    On a personal note, I was disheartened by the language used by our mayor toward Trustee Foley, and the inability to rise above, take a breath, and apologize in the aftermath of it. We’re better than that. Let’s take the temperature on this whole topic down a bit and start fresh.

  10. In a few respects there is an air of unreality to this report and to the commentary in response. Nowhere do I see it mentioned that the typical village process, for as long as I know, has been to come up with proposed policies, via the board directly or initially through a committee, and then to present these proposals to the public for comment. I am unclear how Cuomo’s mandate might override this existing system/tradition, and if it does not I fail to see the argument presented by Trustee Foley. Furthermore, I do not see it mentioned the level of experience in elective office that the mayor holds, over decades, having served several terms on the local school board, then the town council, and currently as village mayor. While anyone’s judgment may be in error, given the mayor’s level of experience relative to all others on the board, it behooves any challenger to explicitly communicate and demonstrate the basis of a disagreement.

    It does appear the village is behind on the governor’s schedule; I am not sure why, or whether that schedule was realistic in the first place.

    Lastly, I wonder whether, with few exceptions, how many readers or commentators here are aware of the level of the workload, and of the responsibilities, of the village board, and how little the compensation there is for this work. Relatedly, just this week it is reported that two members of the Nelsonville board declined to run for re-election, in part due to the workload on that board. Those unaware might consider investigating and attending some of the meetings of the busier village committees: e.g., the Planning, the Code Update, and the Zoning Board of Appeals committees, which I think are the consistently the busiest. In fact their members, and those of all the committees, receive no compensation whatsoever for their work.