Supervisor Lazzaro calls for the resolution amid new unionization effort
Outgoing Seneca Falls Town Supervisor Greg Lazzaro dropped a bombshell resolution on Town Board members and the press on Thursday, which is intended to strip leadership of the Seneca Falls Police Department of their rank.
In an email to board members and the press, Lazzaro outlined the resolution, which would reduce the rank of both Police Chief Stuart Peenstra and Lieutenant Timothy Snyder to Sargent. He said that the board would then resolve to advertise for the position of ‘Acting Chief’ if supported-and-passed.
“My rationale for this resolution is that, Management Personnel make a career decision when accepting their positions, and should not be given the same terms and conditions of employment as their rank and file employees negotiated,” Lazzaro said. The Supervisor clarified on Friday that he has had concerns since May about negotiations between Chief Peenstra and the Town.
The Supervisor says that senior leadership of the Seneca Falls Police Department ‘have a right’ to enter into discussions with the Town to negotiate a contract – but by doing so, have created a conflict of interest. “The Chief of Police of the Town of Seneca Falls had previously presented a Contract to the town board, given him and the Lieutenant the same rights and privileges as the rank and file of his officers, as negotiated by the Town Board and The Police Chief,” Lazzaro said. “The Police Chief as part of the negotiating team should have disclosed his intent to negotiate a contract for himself and the Lieutenant, after rank and file negotiations were completed with the police force, he then should have recused himself from the negotiations team.”
Town Councilman Doug Avery says the remainder of the Town Board was surprised by the resolution. “The Supervisor took it upon himself to publicize his intent without any board discussion,” Avery said. “The rest of us saw his proposal at the same time you did. For him to release his statement at this time and in this fashion is not helpful.”
Avery’s concern is that the resolution, as proposed, would punish Chief Peenstra and Lt. Snyder for attempting to form a bargaining unit. “If the board were to approve it, we may well run afoul of labor law that protects the right to unionize,” he explained.
The Councilman did concede that Supervisor Lazzaro is correct that there may be a conflict of interest if the police chief takes part in future negotiations. However, Peenstra being part of past negotiations has no bearing, in Avery’s assessment.
The ‘rank-and-file’ of the Seneca Falls Police Department is represented by a union, which does not include the Chief or Lieutenant. Their salaries are determined through the Town’s salary matrix. Last year, the two asked for their benefits package to be tied in with the rest of the police department.
Avery says the Town’s labor attorney’s advice was for leadership to form their own bargaining unit. At the attorney’s advice, Avery says the Town Board opted to move slowly in that direction. “Creation of a bargaining unit for the town’s top two police officers will be a slow process. All parties will need to be patient and methodical,” he concluded.
For his part in all this, Chief Peenstra says there was no indication that a resolution like this was coming.
On Friday, Chief Peenstra issued the following statement:
“The Seneca Falls Command Staff consist of two civil service positions; the Chief of Police and Police Lieutenant. These positions, as all positions in the Seneca Falls Police Department are protected by civil service laws. Under the Taylor Law, employees, including the Seneca Falls Command Staff, have a right to enter into a collective bargaining unit. This bargaining unit was formed under the direction of the Town of Seneca Falls Labor Relations Attorney: Roemer Wallens, Gold & Mineaux. The recommendation by the Towns Labor Relations Attorney to go in this direction was in the best interest of the Town of Seneca Falls and the Seneca Falls Police Department Command Staff. Although the Command Staff draft contract does have some similar benefits as the Seneca Falls PBA Council 82 bargaining unit contract, the draft SF Command Staff bargaining Unit is specific to the position of Police Chief and Police Lieutenant. It is common practice to have the Police Chief or Sheriff take part in their department’s bargaining unit process. Many of these Police Chiefs or Sheriffs receive some form of equal or greater benefits as specified in their agencies department’s bargaining unit.
Failing to provide the Chief and Lieutenant with similar benefits the police department receive may adversely affect the entire department. In the future, the most qualified employee to backfill a command staff position may question whether or not leaving their collective bargaining unit is the best decision for their carrier and family.
Supervisor Lazzaro will have the ability in the future to vote yes or no during a board meeting when the Town Board decides to read a resolution to either accept or deny the Seneca Falls Command Staff proposed contact. This is a decision that is required to be voted on by the entire Town Board and is not a decision that one Board Member or a Town Supervisor can decide on their own.”
The Town Board will meet on December 3rd at 6 p.m. at the Seneca Falls Municipal Building.
– By Josh Durso
Josh Durso is a lifelong resident of the Finger Lakes. When not overseeing the newsroom he’s hosting Inside the FLX: A weekly program on FL1 Radio. Check out the podcast by clicking here, or by visiting www.InsideTheFLX.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FLXJosh, or say hello by clicking here.