By Terry Duffy
Lewiston Police Department contract issues occupied significant discussion at Monday's joint session of the Lewiston Town Board and the Village of Lewiston Board of Trustees, held at the Red Brick Municipal Building. It's a long-standing issue between the two municipalities.
Village Attorney Joseph Leone, who is tasked with working with Mayor Terry Collesano and Supervisor Steve Broderick in crafting a new contract, said the two entities need to iron out such issues as the police commissioner and how to handle the budget.
Offering some historical insight on the LPD contract situation, Leone proceeded to review the sticking points between the two municipalities that date from the mid-1990s town-village consolidation of the department to current day.
"There are several portions I need to try to resolve," Leone said as he proceeded to offer perspective on the LPD contract - the role of the police commissioner, and the roles of the town and village in budget appropriations. "The original contact was in 1995; it was amended in 2002; there have been a variety of resolutions ever since then, in joint town-village meetings. At one time it looked as though the police contract had actually been rescinded. I'm not necessarily convinced that that occurred."
Offering an explanation, Leone continued, "There was a statement that this thing (the contract) 'was no longer valid.' I'm kind of up in the air as to whether that happened or not. The position I am taking is that I'm going to try to eliminate all that and just start from scratch with a new contract."
Turning his attention to the police commissioner, Leone said the primary role in the past has been that of a tiebreaker, either in discussion matters between the village and town or with Lewiston Police rank-and-file officers and LPD administrators on personnel matters.
Over the past two decades, Lewiston police commissioners have included the late Robert F. S'Dao, former Lewiston Town Board members Ernest Palmer and Ron Winkley (also a past LPD chief and village trustee). Currently, the LPD commissioner's position remains empty.
"Both of the old contracts talked about a police commissioner. That police commissioner was kind of the deciding vote between if there was a vote, the mayor voted one way, the supervisor voted another way ... the police commissioner was kind of the deciding vote," Leone said. "I'm assuming that we did not want to go back to that. But I need to know. If we do, I need to know what kind of qualifications (and) who the police commissioner would be."
Leone then turned his focus to the commissioner's role in the future as a tiebreaker on LPD administrative issues.
"For instance, when the chief got appointed, is there going to be a mechanism in place that, before there would be key appointments that (they) would go before both boards instead of one board?" Leone asked. "Or would it go just between the mayor and supervisor? And maybe or maybe not, the police commissioner? ...
"I can't get down to drafting until I have a better idea. All I would do with drafting is put my ideas down. I need to know what both boards are thinking, so I can try to get this thing done right."
Collesano suggested Broderick talk it over with the Lewiston Town Board, and see if there's a consensus, "Then you and I can meet with the attorney."
"I wouldn't be opposed to that," Broderick said.
Leone said, "I'd be happy to sit down, once we have that (consensus). It doesn't have to be perfect first time, but I would rather do it with consensus, then strike page after page worth of material.
"If we can get by whether or not there is going to be a commissioner, and if there's not, how to resolve the tie-breakers if there is one. Then we can move on to the budget."
Town Board member Al Bax said it was good to have a commissioner speak on mutual decisions, "But at that point, he became the focal point of a lot of lobbying. I'm not necessarily sure you get the best decision on whose friend is the commissioner or who the commissioner is closest with on the town or village board. Until we come up with some more constructive way to make decisions cumulatively versus focusing on that one person and that one person only ... we can take a lot of the politics out of it."
Discussing the LPD budget, Leone said the town has maintained funding "the lion's share" over the past two decades, with percentages furnished by the village. He asked whether this would be the best route to continue with down the road.
"Are we going to do that with annual revisions of budgets; are we going to look at that annually, and say, 'This is how much the village should pay, this is how much the town should pay,' or are we going to have percentages, that can vary from year to year, or are we going to have set percentages?" Leone said. "At one time ... it was like 73 percent town, 27 percent village, or thereabouts."
Leone said the two municipalities previously worked under an agreed-on formula that left room for adjustments.
Lewiston Town Board member Bill Geiben, who also previously served as village trustee, said the town and village would often handle sticky LPD matters by means of mutual agreement.
"To make it palatable to the village, different things were relinquished," he said. "I'm not sure how much written documentation is there.
"You have two boards, each made up of five people, plus the supervisor and mayor. It's going to be complicated to try to make it work perfectly. I agree to take a shot at it, work it step by step to see it through."
Leone said both boards would have to look at the overall funding formula, including Artpark & Company's contribution.
Broderick said Artpark has agreed to contribute $20,000. "For this year, a trial basis, then we'll have to see."
"I won't tell you what it is going to cost me, but it is not $20,000," LPD Chief Frank Previte said.
"But it's better than nothing," Bax said.
Collesano said that, from what he understood, the supervisor and mayor, as well as the actual commissioner, all held similar authority. He said that, back in 1995, when consolidation happened, "It was the mayor and the supervisor who were the ones who handled the budgets."
"Then there was a commissioner (in Bob S'Dao)," Collesano said. "The reason for that was if ... it's a line of command, say a police officer had a complaint with a superior officer, you couldn't go discuss it with him. ... He would go to the commission; the commission would try to resolve those problems. ... If it couldn't be resolved, then it would be brought to the mayor or supervisor. We wanted to keep politics out of it, that's why we had a commissioner."
Broderick noted that, in today's employee management environment, LPD officers work first with the union and then with the town.
"If there's a real issue, you go to the unions. Then it will go to the town, because (LPD officers) are town employees," he said. "We have to figure out those ramifications, too. There is more burden on the town to resolve those issues (versus the village)."
Broderick said many of the LPD management concessions to the town came about from resolutions from the village.
"Some of the things you want back (now) were given up (earlier). I'm not opposed to working on that. But you see how it's a balancing act ... of the town handling certain issues, being town employees. It is a work in progress," he said.
Broderick said Lewiston is unique among communities in Western New York, with the town and village both involved in handling the police department.
As for a need for an actual commissioner in the future, Previte, as well as Collesano and Broderick, all indicated its time might have passed.
"I don't see the need for it," Previte said, noting the involvement of unions today on LPD personnel or administrative matters. He said he prefers to work directly with the town or village boards or their police liaisons, "to talk about whatever is happening."
Broderick, who works in a supervisory role with the Niagara County Sheriff's Office, agreed on the need to address the structure. He said, "It's fallen beyond the waysides."
"It makes sense; we should know what is going on with the town," Collesano said.
Discussions on the LPD contact closed with Broderick and Collesano expected to follow-up further with Leone on the matter prior to meetings with their respective boards.