Proposal to disband Binghamton Police Department sparks outrage from local Republicans
A Binghamton resident proposed legislation to the city council Monday that would put a voter referendum on the November ballot to disband the city's police department. The proposal is the first time this new council has heard legislation proposed by a constituent, and it has prompted outrage from local Republicans.
Binghamton resident and frequent government critic, John Solak, submitted the request for legislation. It would dissolve the Binghamton Police Department and transfer its duties to the state police and sheriff’s department, if approved by voters.
Solak argued it would save taxpayers money and reduce the city’s legal liability. He has pointed to the village of Deposit, which disbanded its police force and transferred some policing duties to a patrol officer from the Broome County Sheriff’s Office in 2020.
'A ridiculous and extreme idea'
The proposal was met with immediate opposition from local Republicans, who blamed the Democratic city council members for even allowing it to appear on the agenda.
“We're calling on every Democrat elected official, including Lea Webb, Donna Lupardo, Jason Garnar, and Josh Riley, to condemn this blatant disregard for public safety and slap in the face to every police officer who protects our city,” Broome County Republican Committee Chair Benji Federman said in a statement.
Mike Sigler, the Republican candidate for the 52nd Senate District, said the request for legislation was “completely and utterly absurd,” and called on his opponent, Democratic state Sen. Lea Webb, to condemn it. Republican Rep. Marc Molinaro put out a statement calling the proposal “a ridiculous and extreme idea.”
Binghamton Mayor Jared Kraham held a press conference about the request Tuesday morning.
“I came to members of city council in good faith to let them know, I think this is a terrible idea,” Kraham said. “I don't think you should affirmatively put this on the agenda. What kind of message it sends to our members of law enforcement? What kind of message it sends to members of the public?”
Kraham said the proposed legislation had no merit and the city council should never have entertained it.
“The council members need to do their homework and see what has merit and what they bring to the floor,” Kraham said. “I certainly don't send down pieces of legislation just because someone submitted it to my office.”
Kraham argued city council members themselves should be responsible for bringing requests for legislation, and that constituents should communicate their concerns and ideas to their council members.
'We don't think it's inappropriate to have a conversation'
Solak’s proposal is the first time this Binghamton City Council has heard a request for legislation submitted by a constituent.
The Binghamton city charter allows residents to request legislation. But Council Member Nate Hotchkiss said residents have complained that previous councils ignored their requests. He said the new council decided they would hear residents out.
“If we're committed to having the public be able to submit [requests for legislation], we can't just shut down the first one that we have here,” Hotchkiss said. “And we don't think it's inappropriate to have a conversation about something that a resident brings forward.”
Hotchkiss said he feels in previous councils, it was assumed any request for legislation that made it to a work session would automatically be voted through.
“I don't think anything that's put forward should be considered that it's going to be put into law or voted through,” Hotchkiss said. “But we're going to execute a democratic process and have discussion and deliberation and then go from there.”
Hotchkiss said he feels some local Republicans "saw an opportunity to smear us and slander us for having attempting a more open form of government."
The Binghamton City Council is made up of Democrats, though a lawsuit between Kraham and the city council continues over the disputed 6th District council seat. After the November election, the Republican and Democratic candidates running in that race tied. Both the mayor and the council argue they have the right to appoint someone to the seat. Arguments in that case are scheduled for February 16.
Binghamton City Council President Hadassah Mativetsky said despite the response to this particular request for legislation, the council is committed to hearing requests from residents.
Mativetsky said as long as proposals don’t contain personal attacks or inappropriate language, the council will hear them.
“We literally ran on listening to people, and we have to figure out how to turn the concept of listening into a process,” Mativetsky said. “Our commitment to listening is going to translate into processes that look different from past city councils.”
The council allowed Solak to present his request during its work session Monday. Tensions during the session ran high, and Solak accused Hotchkiss of bias against the proposal, due to comments reported earlier that day by local news outlets.
For the proposed legislation to move forward, it would need to be brought to a business meeting vote by a majority of city council members. So far, that has not happened.