ITHACA, N.Y.—The City of Ithaca’s clumsy police chief search looks poised to reopen, though if it does it will be over the objections of those who think the Ithaca Police Department needs immediate assistance in the form of a permanent leader.
The topic was, obviously, a primary discussion point at Wednesday’s Common Council meeting, where the strange saga of the police chief search continued to unfold. Several people from the public and Common Council spoke out against reopening the search, even after its ugly last few days.
You can watch the full meeting here, and a Common Council meeting recap will be published later Thursday.
The meeting was originally supposed to include the approval of Acting Chief John Joly to move into the police chief role permanently, but that fell apart on Monday. Mayor-elect Laura Lewis withdrew her appointment from consideration after several Common Council members told The Ithaca Voice, in no uncertain terms, that they would not support Joly’s nomination, meaning it would have failed. The decision to withdraw was made official on Monday night.
Two other candidates were listed as finalists alongside Joly, former IPD lieutenant Scott Garin and current Binghamton Police Department captain Chris Bracco. Garin has generated a wave of support, both from the police chief selection committee that unanimously recommended to Lewis that Garin be appointed, and from several members of the public and Common Council Wednesday night. Bracco’s name has been mentioned less in the wake of the Joly debacle, though he is a less locally familiar face than Garin, who spent 22 years with IPD before leaving in March for a job at Ithaca College.
Lewis had not confirmed whether or not she will switch course on her plans, stated Monday, to reopen the search. It is unclear if Garin would still accept the position. Requests for comment on these matters have not yet been returned.
The meeting began with a tense but calm statement read by Joly himself, who took the first slot during the public comment session. Accompanied by his wife at the microphone and his children in the audience, Joly called his treatment over the last few days “abhorrent,” condemning the “outrageously destructive narrative that has been put out by several members of this council.”
Joly said he hadn’t heard from any council members during the last several days as the appointment fell apart, and wasn’t sure why Lewis had chosen him initially. He recounted his accomplishments since taking over as acting police chief in May 2021, touting transparency moves like the publication of the IPD community dashboard and his work with Monalita Smiley, the leader of the Community Justice Center which was created during the Reimagining Public Safety process.
Joly’s comments were lengthy, at one point interrupted by Lewis informing him his time limit had been reached; Alderperson George McGonigal said to “let him finish,” and Joly then took his wife’s allotted time to conclude his comments.
“The success indicates the efforts and teamwork of my staff, they deserve leadership, support and a stable work environment. They deserve to have a permanent chief and not a new administration every two years,” Joly said. “The manner in which the mayor and members of this council have handled this selection has highlighted the underlying dysfunction within city government. It’s been devastating to me personally and to my family, and has had a ripple effect on all employees at IPD.”
The situation will also put recruitment at further risk, Joly said, before addressing charges of racist acts in his past, leveled by Alderperson Jorge DeFendini in a statement opposing his appointment to be chief.
“I am not a racist. I am a human being with empathy and compassion for others,” Joly said. “I strive to exemplify honesty, integrity and dedication. I’m extremely angry that Councilperson DeFendini has made such outrageous and slanderous accusations. I deserve to be treated with respect and dignity and I will not tolerate these baseless accusations, especially from an elected official. Several of you have made a complete mess of this. I don’t know how you fix it, or if it was part of the plan in the first place.”
Ithaca Police Benevolent Association President Thomas Condzella also spoke during public comment, joining the condemnation of Joly’s public treatment but not quite endorsing him for the job of police chief; Condzella also requested that the search not be reopened, boosting Garin’s candidacy for the job.
“We are now at a crossroads, and you have a choice,” Condzella said. “Two more candidates participated in the selection process for police chief. One who was selected by the selection committee, and one who has immense support within the community and the Ithaca police department. This candidate has demonstrated his commitment and has assisted with and participated in many difficult discussions involving reimagining and progressive change within our community and IPD. […] Do not reopen this search for chief of police and extend this another 12-18 months.”
County Legislator Travis Brooks, who represents the City of Ithaca, also spoke in favor of Garin, saying his selection would be most beneficial for the Reimagining reform process and opposing the reopening of the search.
“How rare is it that the community, and the community of policing, want the same person?” Brooks said.
After public comment ended, several Common Council members addressed the bungled selection and aftermath.
“I will say that John Joly is an honorable man, and he has worked extremely hard as the acting chief,” McGonigal said. “I’ve worked with John extensively, and what he said about the things that he’s accomplished over the last two years is true.”
McGonigal said the department is better now than when Joly started and praised his navigation of staffing problems.
“I apologize to him for the way he’s been treated for the last week,” McGonigal said. “I also will say that Scott Garin is an honorable and solid candidate for chief of police of the Ithaca Police Department, and I would agree with the members of the department that reopening the search would simply take too long and would cause more serious damage to the department, and as a consequence, it would cause a lot of difficulty in the community.”
Alderperson Ducson Nguyen echoed McGonigal’s sentiment in that he maintained his opposition to Joly’s candidacy for police chief, but acknowledged that the public embarrassment Joly experienced was harmful in a number of ways.
“I may not have wanted him to be put in as the permanent police chief, but he definitely did not deserve what he’s experienced from the city,” Nguyen said. “While there may be other candidates that many of us want to see in that seat, I truly regret and apologize for how public this has gotten in the past few days.”