At the Sept. 8 Bedford Town Board meeting, the board approved a number of items that, among other things, will facilitate creation of the Phase II Sewer District. The board also approved a resolution to create a Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative Program and Committee.
The formation of the committee action aims to fulfill a requirement instituted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order June 12, which called on local governments to “adopt a policing reform plan after performing a collaborative review of the needs of the community served by its police agency, and evaluate the police department’s current policies and practices to address any racial bias and disproportionate policing of communities of color and promote trust, fairness, and legitimacy.”
The resolution, drafted by town attorney Eric Gordon with town board member Ellen Calves, sets forth the purpose of the program and composition of the committee. Ms. Calves summarized the process set forth in the resolution, and board member MaryAnn Carr summarized the background of Executive Order 203 and its basis in the history of racism and the need for police accountability. “It will be very specifically tailored to the community of Bedford,” Ms. Carr said. “This will not be some top-down thing. It will very much be in response to what is gathered through community listening.”
The purpose of the program, as stated, is to review the needs of the community served by its police agency; evaluate the relevant policies and practices of the department; identify standards and strategies that foster trust, fairness, transparency, accountability and legitimacy; and confirm or establish policies that allow police to effectively and safely
perform their duties.
The town and its police are required to consult with stakeholders, including stakeholders identified in EO 203 and others, to create the program. The town board is delegated with the authority to select the members of the committee. Supervisor Chris Burdick said board members Bobbi Bittker and Ms. Calves will be recommending the committee members, and the board will then appoint them.
Once membership is finalized, the committee will invite stakeholders and community members to participate in listening sessions and elicit input from the public. It will develop policy recommendations resulting from this review; offer a plan for public comment; present the plan to the town board to ratify or adopt; and certify adoption of the plan to the State Budget Director on or before April 1, 2021.
Board member Kate Galligan said she saw it as a constructive, healing exercise, and a positive and important step for the community and the police department. “I think we’re in a fortunate position, with a very strong relationship between the community and the PD,” she said. “This will allow us to identify areas that can be improved upon.”
Ms. Bittker agreed, and said she wanted to clarify what this was for, in the midst of emotions that had been running high. “We’re not looking for things to be wrong and we’re not expecting things to be wrong,” she said. She pointed out that those calling for defunding the police are looking at militarized city departments and want to turn them into what Bedford already has. “I think we’re starting from a really good place,” she said.
Mr. Burdick added that the town is fortunate that Bedford Police Chief Mel Padilla serves on the county committee addressing policing reform, which he said would help inform the town committee’s work.
Ms. Carr further noted that two new town committees — the police reform committee and the recently announced Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Advisory Committee — were beginning work at the same time, saying she believed there would be overlap between them.
Earlier in the meeting, Bedford Hills resident Haywood Berman was appointed as chair of IDEAC for a three-year term. In recommending Mr. Berman to the board, Ms. Bittker, who worked to set up the committee, described Mr. Berman as an experienced, licensed clinical social worker with a law degree who works with adolescents within special education in the Greenburgh-North Castle School District. “His identity, background and work give him a unique perspective and lived experience,” Ms. Bittker said. “His personality, together with his training bring the compassion and temperament suited to lead a group whose work will necessarily include controversial discussions.”
The board held a public hearing on, and subsequently approved, an amendment to the Public Sewer Law. It loosens a requirement that a licensed plumber is required to perform all connections to the lateral system, which runs to the property line of each of the properties in the Phase I Sewer District. It allows a licensed septic system contractor to make improvements to parts of the sewer system located on private property, including work on sanitary sewer pipes less than 30 inches from a building foundation or inside a building, which the local law had still specifically restricted to licensed plumbers.
It also passed an amendment that will help property owners avoid the additional cost of having to obtain required insurance. The measure enables property owners or contractors hired to do the work to indemnify the town against claims relating to the installation work being done on private property. Contractors should be able to provide the required insurance, which will name the town as an additional insured, according to town officials.
While this law refers to and will reduce costs for many of those in Phase I, it will be adopted to Phase II as well.
A final agenda item on setting up the referendum for approval of the Phase II sewer district led to a surprisingly lengthy discussion. Mr. Burdick proposed a work session for Tuesday, Sept. 15, at 10 a.m. to finalize the voter list for a referendum.
Ms. Bittker expressed discomfort with the idea of the town board lobbying in favor of the referendum. She said she thought that position presented a possible conflict of interest, because the town would benefit from approval of the sewer district.
Mr. Gordon, the town attorney, said he did not consider there to be any conflict of interest. “Since you’ve already adopted the public interest resolution, and because there’s no other board, like the planning board or zoning board, that’s considering the project that you would be potentially influencing in their decision, we don’t see it as there being an ethical conflict for the town board members to, at the very least, notify persons of the special election” and advise them of the benefits, he said.
Mr. Burdick noted that the board had an obligation to ensure that the district was approved by the largest vote possible. “We’re standing behind what we’re doing,” he said. “If we believe in it, and think it’s the right public policy and action, we should be willing to carry forward and help to implement that determination, rather than just stay mute on the sidelines and let the chips fall where they may.” He noted the town had significant wastewater issues and was at the epicenter of wastewater problems in the county. “After 100 years of talking about it, the town’s finally doing something about it,” he said, and they have an obligation to follow through.
“I don’t know if we have an obligation to follow through,” countered board member Kate Galligan. She argued that as town board members, they had already fulfilled their obligation by legislating in favor of the sewer district.
Ms. Carr and Mr. Burdick pointed out that board members had previously gone door-to-door prior to the referendum for Phase I, urging residents to vote in favor.
Mr. Burdick reiterated the importance of encouraging the largest turnout possible in favor of the referendum, as well as to inform residents of the district who were still unaware of the proposal. He also pointed out that board members would not solicit support for their personal candidacies, but rather ask residents to approve a project that would benefit them and the town. His biggest fear, he said, was low voter turnout.
Mr. Burdick said he understood the board members’ discomfort and noted they can discuss the disagreement further at the Sept. 15 work session.