by Rachel Hunter
The matter of the Gouverneur Central School District hiring a School Resources Officer (SRO) was up for discussion at the Village of Gouverneur Board of Trustees meeting on Jan. 15.
It was first brought up by Superintendent of Schools Lauren French at the November village board meeting. More recently, Village of Gouverneur Mayor Ronald McDougall was approached by a school board member recently who requested that the Village of Gouverneur Board of Trustees put something in writing where the village would “support a school resource officer – or not.” Mayor McDougall said school board members planned to be at the monthly village board meeting, but the school board’s meeting was moved to the same night and there were no represents present in the municipal courtroom when the matter was discussed by the village board.
“I am hesitant to put anything in writing,” Mayor McDougall said to the village board. “I think as a minimum maybe we should offer the opportunity to sit down and talk. Or if not, we should take up the initiative and say, “No, we are not interested in being a partner in that business or whatever.” I would not pen anything in writing without consulting the board, first of all, and our attorney as well.”
Mayor McDougall then asked Village of Gouverneur Chief of Police Laurina Greenhill the following: “Should we at the minimum ask for the opportunity to have at least a sit-down and talk about this or not? What is your opinion?”
“They have never reached out to me,” Chief Greenhill said.
Mayor McDougall nodded his head, remembering the discussion from the November village board meeting, and said the following: “The email exchanges were just that email, phone calls or whatever. They weren’t personal meetings or anything.”
“Correct,” Chief Greenhill said. “We had a meeting in August right before school started, but it had nothing to do with the SRO. It was about other school-related stuff. At the time, myself and Sgt. Gordon Ayen brought the topic up because they never approached us. We asked, “What are your intentions with the SRO?” They didn’t really have any answers. I don’t think they had really formulated or wrapped their mind around the entirety of everything that it entails this position. At some time I expected to be approached and asked about it, so I was preparing myself with some of my own research to try and inform myself about it. And so at that meeting, I said, “I think there are things that you need to at least consider… and maybe you should discuss in whatever discussions you are having at the school.” And so the Superintendent of Schools at the time asked me to put it in writing, which I did. I put it in an informal memo and sent it to them, and I know it got distributed to the school board. And that is the extent of the interaction between the school and the police department as far as this goes… I don’t know if they have even presented anything to the board as to what it is that they want. They are the ones looking for the position. I don’t know what it is that they have in mind that this person should be doing, or what it is that they want. And reaching out to us, of course if the Village wants to sit down obviously I should be involved in that conversation.”
“Oh yeah, absolutely,” Mayor McDougall said.
Chief Greenhill then continued the conversation as follows: “I don’t know. I think there is a breakdown in communication myself because I can’t believe that in the months that have transpired since that money went into the budget and they have been talking about it, they’ve never approached the police department even though I have offered information myself. I am confused about that.”
Mayor McDougall then said that he had heard references on the subject of SROs at a recent mayors conference. He also added that Morristown Central didn’t go through a police agency to get a SRO.
“Now there is someone there, but they are not armed and they do not have a badge… but there is an extra person around,” Mayor McDougall said.
Chief Greenhill agreed, saying, “It sounded like it was a rushed hire without even considering the position in its entirety.”
“That’s right,” Mayor McDougall said. “So anyways, we don’t want to be in that situation.”
Chief Greenhill then told the village board the following: “I made my position clear in that informal memo with the school that my opinion obviously is that the Gouverneur Police Department doesn’t have the resources to put somebody over there. But that doesn’t mean that if that is your goal that we don’t have information to offer when you are talking about this position as well… Do they know what they want out of this person. What is their expectations? If you are talking about a police officer, there is certain restrictions that they have to work under… The County has just formulated a school resource officer position, so they have actually categorized it, and they are having a test in March. I don’t know if the school is aware of that, or if that is coming into play. Or are you talking about hiring a civilian but then there’s things you can and can’t do and so it all depends on what they are looking for. How does the village know what to offer? They haven’t presented us with their expectation.”
Deputy Mayor Charles Newvine then said the following: “In my opinion and in my experience, which is quite limited, the wheels of government move very, very slowly. So to start the process, we need to at least sit down and see what they want or what they are expecting out of us. From what I understand, it would be a budgetary item for them in a lump sum sent to the Village of Gouverneur. Well, the Village of Gouverneur doesn’t do a lump sum employ. (The Gouverneur Police Department) had 1600 hours this year without a police officer on. So, for us to absorb an officer to say here you go school is a little tough for me. It is not ethically right to do that to our police department. It is not fiscally responsible to the taxpayer for us to absorb a debt that the school wants. We maintained and held the line for six years, and just decreased it 30 cents per thousand two years ago. If we are going to maintain it, which is an absolutely great thing to do. If you read the same paper that I do, we are the only municipality doing that. So if there are legacy costs, it is a cost to the village taxpayer, that our due diligence to do. The Gouverneur Central School tax base is a lot larger than the Village of Gouverneur tax base. So, while their might be people paying taxes in Fowler, in Macomb, or in other areas, they may want that school resource officer, but they don’t pay taxes in the Village of Gouverneur. That doesn’t mean I don’t support it or wouldn’t support it…”
There was some more discussion, and then Deputy Mayor Newvine made a motion to invite school officials, Chief Greenhill, and other key players in the discussion to a public meeting on the subject. The motion passed unanimously.
The next regular monthly meeting of the Village of Gouverneur Board of Trustees is to be held on Tuesday, February 19 at 7 p.m. in the municipal courtroom.