Back in January, there was some hope that replacing New Paltz Town Board members with volunteer police commissioners could happen as soon as February. Now, there’s talk of completing the process in May. While the desire to undo the Zimet administration decision to disband the old volunteer commission is widespread, and seen as an opportunity to seat a more diverse group to oversee the budget and some of the disciplinary processes, the individuals who have applied have been few in number, and perhaps not as representative of different interest groups as had been hoped. Nevertheless, Town Supervisor Neil Bettez has proposed closing the door for new applicants May 5, wrapping up the public interviews at the next meeting, and soon thereafter reviewing responses to written questions and appointing commissioners. It could be that setting a deadline will result in a last minute spate of interest. Bettez feels this would be welcome, and that reconsidering the deadline would be appropriate if that occurred.
Dan Torres believes Town officials have “never had a longer or more engaged process” to fill any volunteer position. All five board members continue to actively recruit potential candidates, added Julie Seyfert-Lillis.
Robert Gabrielli was interviewed for the commission at last week’s meeting. These public conversations are intended to get a sense of a candidate’s experience and interest in the role, while the written questions which will be provided later will serve as a more even-handed way to gauge how an individual might function as a police commissioner. Gabrielli rattled off a long list of accomplishments, including a number that occurred while working as a New Paltz police officer, along with time as a state investigator into worker’s compensation claims. The applicant was asked if having many years of experience in law enforcement might make it challenging to recognize how policing is changing, and responded by explaining that “we’ve always done it that way” is never a helpful contribution to a conversation. Gabrielli was also quite clear in the position that the role of commissioners is not to develop policy, but to implement it. Elected officials, as the individuals wholly accountable to the residents of the Town, should be the only ones setting policy, Gabrielli feels.
There was a general sense of agreement that candidates should receive the written questions as soon as possible, as wording has been agreed upon by all council members. Responding to a suggestion by this reporter, two members indicated support for posting the questions publicly to allow any potential applicant time to prepare responses.