Correction: More details were added to Common Council responses to public commenters on Wednesday.

ITHACA, N.Y.—Wednesday’s Common Council meeting tried to not address the elephant in the room, bumping the Reimagining Public Safety discussion to a Committee of the Whole meeting scheduled for May 11 that will be solely dedicated to the topic. Still, the ongoing reform effort dominated public comment and forced at least some discussion merely one week after Alderperson Cynthia Brock called for an ethics investigation into payments made to members of the Reimagining working group

You can watch the meeting here, and follow along in the agenda here.

The majority of the meeting dealt with other topics, though, most notably a new local law that will require employers of a certain size to disclose a salary range on job listings, a move meant to fight pay discrimination. 

The pay transparency legislation was dealt with fairly early in the meeting, introduced by Alderperson Robert Cantelmo. The law passed the City Administration Committee last week.

The legislation requires minimum and maximum hourly pay or salary ranges to be listed when companies solicit job applications for open positions, though temporary jobs and companies with four or less employees are exempt from the requirement. The law would also require employers to post these pay ranges when they offer a promotion or transfer opportunity to their employees.

“Pay transparency is important because it rebalances employee-employer dynamics,” Cantelmo said. “Pay transparency is mutually beneficial for employers and employees (…) It’s important we intervene to right this structural wrong.” 

The minimum employee threshold of four employees was chosen to align with other anti-discrimination legislation in the city. Alderperson Jorge DeFendini (D-Fourth Ward) said the transparency increase would, optimistically, reduce the chances of pay discrimination across the city.

“It’s very common sense legislation,” DeFendini said, speaking from the perspective both of a person of color and as a Cornell student who is about to enter the workforce. “Coming from a community of color, we are the most likely to expect discrimination when it comes to pay, to be told that there’s opportunities for pay at one level, get the job, then the reality is very different. This transparency is going to go a long way.” 

Alderperson Jeffrey Barken, who did not speak during the discussion of the bill, was the lone vote against the ordinance, which passed 9-1. During the City Administration Committee meeting on April 27, where the law was passed onto Common Council, Barken questioned whether there was actually discrimination going on, and said he thought that more input should be gathered from the business community.

The law takes effect on Sept. 1, 2022.

Ithaca makes history in climate change effort

The City of Ithaca made a small mark on history Wednesday, becoming the first city municipality to officially accept a definition for “climate justice community,” furthering the city’s goal of “shaping future Ithaca Green New Deal programming in a way that ensures benefits of the IGND are distributed in ways that reduce historic inequities.”

In layman’s terms, the legislation aims to avoid leaving certain populations behind during local efforts to combat climate change in the various forms that it may take. The law passed unanimously and without much discussion. 

“We’ve just become the first city in the entire country to accept a definition for climate justice communities,” said Luis Aguirre Torres, the city’s Director of Sustainability and the primary force behind the IGND’s implementation. “We’re not going to be the last, very likely the whole country will follow, but what you did is historic just now.” 

The gist of the passed resolution is below:

Public comment

As mentioned before, public comment largely dealt with the Reimagining Public Safety process, though it had been pulled from the agenda prior to the meeting. Unlike past meetings, comments were generally pro-police reform and explicitly supported the Reimagining process. At least two of the commenters on Wednesday are part of Ithacans for Reimagining Public Safety, an organization tied to the non-profit People for the American Way, where former Mayor Svante Myrick now serves as executive director.

Others, though, seemed to solely be speaking on the merits of the plan. Ruth Yarrow said she is “proud” to live in a community taking such care to reform law enforcement and bring in civilian first responders, while Karl Graham endorsed the plan on behalf of the Community Leaders of Color group. 

“You voted mostly with passion and courage to create a new department in 2021 … Now that pressure from the benevolent association and police department to falsely malign this initiative […] is now taking the form of a wasteful and distracting tactic, this ethics investigation,” said communtiy member Elan Shapiro, referring to a potential investigation into former Mayor Svante Myrick’s conduct during the Reimagining formulation process. 

Shapiro encouraged the investigation to take place, but not to kill the momentum of the reform plan because of it.

Amos Malone, a member of the working group that created the proposed IPD restructuring, said he believes the city is doing a “great thing” with the process, even if he doesn’t believe it goes as far as it could to reform policing. He said he had been surprised by the hesitation of some members of Common Council to embrace the plan. 

“That, to me, is a little disturbing, is that we’re just reimagining as a community what it could look like,” Malone said. “I would ask everyone, ask yourself how it would be if they got treated like people of color do by the police.”

Common Council members were given the opportunity to respond, though those that did largely echoed their sentiments from previous meetings. Alderperson Cynthia Brock restated her problems with the process and that its discussion has been tainted by the involvement of lobbyists, but said she is also dedicated to fixing the overpolicing of marginalized communities. Alderpersons Ducson Nguyen, Jorge DeFendini, Robert Cantelmo and Phoebe Brown all voiced varying levels of support for the plan, though acknowledging they’d like it to go further. DeFendini reiterated his stance that Common Council had hamstrung the Reimagining process from the outset last year with limitations placed on the working groups. 

“It felt like I was punched in my stomach this week,” Brown said, noting that she thinks of the plan as a beneficial first step at least. “What hurts me more than anything, is where have people been? The governor put out this order, and he put it out because of what’s happening to Black and Brown people. […] We have an opportunity to make change here in Ithaca, and we are fighting it. We didn’t lose any officers [in the restructuring proposal], they didn’t get defunded, they didn’t get abolished.”

Other News and Notes

  • On a separate police-related topic, IPD Acting Chief John Joly appeared before council to discuss a settlement between the City of Ithaca and the Ithaca Police Benevolent Association, the police union representing IPD officers. The IPBA had filed a complaint with the Public Employment Relations Board demanding that the city collectively bargain with the IPBA to determine a set of procedures allocating mandatory overtime work. The PERB judge agreed, and the city and PBA came to a Memorandum of Agreement and settlement.

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Managing Editor at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com