Two city cops who were promoted in the final days of Mayor Shayne Gallo’s administration — only to have the promotions undone and given to others by Mayor Steve Noble — are suing the city.
In the lawsuit, Officer Robert Farrell and Sergeant Kirk Strand claim that their promotions were squelched based on a political vendetta against Gallo.
Strand, a 23-year veteran of the Kingston Police Department, and Farrell, who’s been on the job for 10 years, were among four officers promoted following a contentious meeting of the city’s police commission on Nov. 18, 2015, two weeks after the election of Steve Noble. At the meeting, three of the city’s four police commissioners asked Gallo to hold off on appointing new lieutenants to allow more time for negotiations with the PBA over supervision and manpower issues.
As mayor, Gallo served as chairman of the police commission. He also claimed sole authority over promotions, despite a longstanding practice of commission decisions coming by way of majority vote. Gallo overrode the majority’s decision and informed the commissioners that they would promote off a list of eligible candidates that day. Gallo and Commissioner Naser Habeeb then opted to promote Strand and Farrell over the objections of the other three commissioners, who chose other candidates. Minutes from the meeting note “contentious” debate over the promotions. At one point, the minutes show, Commissioner Brad Jordan declared “everyone in the room knows that [the promotions] will ultimately be debated in the courtroom and decided by a judge.”
According to the lawsuit, over the last six weeks of Gallo’s administration, they were officially declared eligible for the promotions, received effective promotion dates and chose new schedules. Then, on Jan. 2, one day after taking office and one day before the cops’ promotions became official, the new mayor called a special Saturday meeting of the Police Commission. According to minutes of the meeting, the commission entered an off-the-record executive session to discuss personnel matters. When they emerged, the board voted 3-1 to rescind Gallo’s appointments “on the basis that they were done illegally.” The motion called for recognition of the original vote not to promote anyone and for the department to continue with its current staffing pending further action by the commission. Strand and Farrell claim that they were informed of the un-promotion via email.
On Feb. 9, the commission met again to discuss staffing issues. Prior to the meeting, Farrell said, he was again interviewed by the commission alongside other eligible candidates for sergeant. In an affidavit, Farrell described the interview as perfunctory.
“The interview lasted five to seven minutes and I was asked virtually no questions,” Farrell testified.
Farrell was passed over for promotion to sergeant, he said, by two officers who scored lower than him on a civil service test (civil service rules require that candidates be chosen from the top three scorers on the test). Meanwhile, the lieutenant’s post that Gallo gave to Strand remains vacant. Both men said in affidavits that they reached out to union officials and the city’s civil service commission for assistance, but were rebuffed.
Strand and Farrell both testified that they believed the sudden undoing of their promotions was retaliation for their support of Gallo’s failed reelection bid. Farrell claims that he had heard from “numerous sources” that his support for Gallo had cost him the promotion.
“I have concerns that the recession of my appointment is related to my political support for Mayor Gallo,” Farrell testified. “I have attended several fundraisers and feel that this information was held against me.”
The lawsuit seeks to overturn the commission’s decision and reinstate Gallo’s promotions of Strand and Farrell. A brief filed by attorney Kelly Magnuson of Albany based Tully Rinckey PLLC argues that the commission’s actions violated the “plain language” of the city charter, which grants the mayor authority over police department promotions. The brief also argues that the commission has no authority to weigh in on the legality of the mayor’s actions.
In a supporting affidavit, Gallo, an attorney who’s practiced civil service law, argued that his decision to promote the officers was lawful, while Noble’s actions were improper.
Attorneys at Tully Rinckey PLLC and the city’s Corporation Counsel’s Office did not return calls regarding the lawsuit.