POUGHKEEPSIE – On Tuesday night, the Poughkeepsie Common Council, in a 7-2 vote, refused to ratify a new contract with the Police Benevolent Association. The vote was taken before members of the common council could express their opinions on the matter.
Nearly two hours of public comment preceded the resolution coming up for a vote. Participants spoke to a variety of concerns and were equally split in requests for the council to approve or reject the contract that would be in place until December of 2025.
When the council finally brought the resolution up for consideration, Councilwoman Natasha Cherry immediately “called the question,” which is a parliamentary procedure that prevents the council from speaking about the resolution and forces a vote, without discussion. Cherry voted against the contract along with Councilmembers Sarah Salem, Sarah Brannen, Evan Menist, Randall Johnson, Yvonne Flowers, and Lorraine Johnson.
Subsequent to the vote on the PBA contract, Cherry voted along with her colleagues to approve a new contract with city employees that are members of the Civil Service Employees Association. Only after being questioned by Mid-Hudson News did Cherry indicate on the record that she had a conflict and asked if her vote could be changed to an abstention. Cherry’s husband is a city employee and is a member of the CSEA. The city attorney ruled that the vote did not need to be changed but her statement should be included in the official record.
Cherry, who was recently named Majority Whip by Chairperson Sarah Salem, explained her actions to Mid-Hudson News on Wednesday. “The council has talked about this on numerous occasions both on and off the floor. Due to the sensitive nature of this vote, I felt it was best to negate the opportunity for political grandstanding.”
After the meeting, Salem sent out a statement after the meeting that said in part, “Unfortunately tonight, the majority of members on the Common Council could not support the memorandum of agreement as proposed. The agreement does not address key police reform measures that our community has been calling for, reforms that have been priorities for this Council, and that are contained in the City of Poughkeepsie Procedural Justice Committee’s recommendations, reforms that are now being encouraged to be undertaken by communities by our Governor. In fact, many of the recommendations that the City of Poughkeepsie Procedural Justice Committee has crafted are in direct conflict with the language contained in the current agreement.
PBA President Kevin Van Wagner said the union “spent months working with the City to outline this MOA (Memorandum of Agreement) and crafted a framework that was beneficial to all parties. That very framework was then used to craft an agreement with the CSEA which includes a nearly identical raise schedule to our agreement. The CSEA contract passed unanimously.”
He said the union “undeniably deserved their contract to pass, and so did the PBA. It is insulting to our members that the Council would deny our contract only to pass a nearly identical contract for another union on the very next vote.”
Cherry’s city council session action drew the ire of Councilmen Matt McNamara and Chris Petsas. McNamara said he felt that the voice of his constituency was “stifled” when he was prohibited from voicing their concerns to his fellow lawmakers. McNamara noted that the city’s administration had been negotiating with the PBA for almost a year to develop the new contract that includes the officers taking no salary increase for 2021. “Despite the sides having reached an extraordinary agreement, the full terms of which will become public in the coming days, the Council majority wants to add things at the eleventh hour, and that simply isn’t allowed in collective bargaining.” Certain members of the council have sought to have aspects of Executive Order 203 incorporated into the contract and refused to approve it without those recommendations being incorporated.
Petsas, in his eighth year on the council, expressed his disappointment in both Cherry and the vote. “The agreement should have been passed tonight. The police department, council, and administration need to work together on the police reforms that the community is asking for and it would have been much easier if there was a working relationship among all of the parties. Tonight’s actions will place a severe strain on what was left of the existing relationship between the parties.”