Board members spar over what to include
The Cold Spring Village Board adopted at its Tuesday (March 9) meeting a draft plan for a review of the police department.
The seven-page document, posted on the village website, will be discussed at a public meeting on Tuesday (March 16).
The plan was drafted in response to an executive order by Gov. Andrew Cuomo requiring municipalities to review their police policies and procedures and present reform plans by April 1. The order came in response to video-recorded killings by police officers of unarmed people of color.
Cold Spring’s draft outlines a schedule for updating policies and includes extensive gathering of public input, including a survey of residents that will begin this month and continue into May, and community stakeholder groups that will meet into 2022.
An action plan incorporating recommendations from the yearlong process will be drafted next March.
At Tuesday’s meeting, there was disagreement and lengthy discussion over whether the plan should mention former Cold Spring officer Scott Morris’ involvement in the 2012 killing in the Bronx of Ramarley Graham, an unarmed Black man, by a New York City officer. Morris was the officer’s supervisor and standing near the top of the stairwell when two officers broke down the door and entered Graham’s second-floor apartment, according to later testimony.
The Village Board was aware of the incident when it hired Morris in December 2019 by unanimous vote. Morris resigned in June amid protests over his hiring.
Trustees Kathleen Foley and Heidi Bender, who were not on the board when Morris was hired or resigned, favored including a reference to the controversy.
Foley said she felt strongly that mentioning Morris and recent hate crimes in the village “provided context for the environment in which our officers are working.”
Bender agreed, saying, “I don’t think we can provide appropriate context for the community’s relationship to the Police Department without mentioning Morris.”
Mayor Dave Merandy and the two other trustees, Fran Murphy and Marie Early, did not express support for the move. In an exchange with Murphy, Bender said, “I know three white board members feel there should be absolutely no mention of Scott Morris.”
“Don’t do that,” Murphy responded. “Don’t identify me by gender, race or anything else; I’m a board member.”
Bender said, “I can’t see how this [plan] can possibly be successful” without acknowledging the Morris hire. She asked Officer-in-Charge Larry Burke if he felt the public concern over Morris’ background had been significant.
Burke said he had investigated the shooting thoroughly, and that “nothing was hidden, everything was transparent.”
“You’re looking for transparency,” Murphy said, addressing Bender. “If the community groups [involved in shaping the plan] decide they want a board that helps us with hiring police, that’s what this is about.”
Merandy added if the Morris incident is to be included, the rationale for why he was hired must be understood.
“He might have been the supervisor, but he was not on the scene” and “not the officer who pulled the trigger.”
Foley interjected that “the trigger man disobeyed an order. It was not Scott Morris’ order and Morris was not the trigger man. That needs to be on the public record.”
Merandy said Morris would not have been hired had he been directly involved or condoned what happened.
“I would ask the public why they were outraged,” Merandy said. “We’re talking about bias and race and prejudice, yet prejudice against a police officer who had nothing to do with this incident seems to be OK — and that’s hypocritical.”
“If supervisors fail to perform, they are often fired, especially if someone dies,” Bender said.
“The purpose of the executive order is to create a better relationship between the community, people of color and police,” Merandy said. “The plan is an outreach program to work toward that, to review what we have in place and make it better.”
Foley pointed out that any incidents of hate in the village “have not been at the hands of our police officers.”
The draft plan, without reference to Morris, was approved, 4-1, with Bender voting “no.”
Earlier in the meeting, Eliza Starbuck, the president of the Cold Spring Area Chamber of Commerce, presented a written request for a line item in the 2021-22 budget that would pay for maintenance of the public restrooms at the Visitor’s Information Booth on Main Street so they could be open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday through Sunday and on holiday Mondays during the tourist season.
“Clean public restrooms are a necessity for visitors or residents,” her request said. “To deny use of existing public restrooms is inhumane and presents a hazard to public health and safety.”
Starbuck said the cost of hiring a company to clean the restrooms from Memorial Day weekend through year-end would be $16,000 to $19,000.
Jeff Mikkelson, a member of the chamber board, said that the cost was relatively small and that currently some visitors who cannot find open public restrooms “relieve themselves outdoors and in people’s yards.”
Merandy responded that “$20,000 is not a small amount for our budget.” He said before the COVID-19 shutdown, the restrooms were cleaned by the village Highway Department. But with the pandemic, he said, “we didn’t think it was a good idea” to open them. Last fall, volunteers from the chamber maintained the restrooms.
“We could find [the money] if we want to,” Bender commented.
The mayor replied: “Once you get into the budget season with us, maybe you’ll think differently.”
Merandy noted that other communities, including Beacon, don’t provide public bathrooms.
“But we have the facilities; we should do better than that,” Foley said.
Bender suggested if residents think restrooms are important, they should be considered in the budget. “To say it can’t be done, that’s not true.”
That set off a heated exchange.
“I just wish I had your insight,” Merandy said to Bender. “I guess after seven years of crunching numbers I don’t have that.”
“You’re condescending to me every meeting, Dave,” Bender replied.
“Well you shouldn’t say some of the things you say, because they’re condescending,” Merandy shot back.
“You treat Trustee Bender badly, Mayor Merandy,” Foley said.
“And you’re always jumping in there defending her,” Merandy said. “She’s an adult, a trustee; she can defend herself.”
“You’re the only one shouting, the only one using that tone of voice and that language,” Foley replied. “It’s not appropriate and it’s not OK.”
“That’s your opinion; you just jump in there and start speaking, which I don’t think is appropriate,” Merandy said.
“Raising your voice is one thing; we’ve all done it, I do it,” Foley said. “It’s the condescending tone, which especially is extended toward women.”
“Stop, stop!” Merandy said. “That is totally ridiculous!”
At that point, Burke intervened.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we need to take a timeout,” Burke said. “Relax, let’s move on with the meeting.”
No action was taken on restroom funding.