(L-R, back): New Paltz Police Commission members Randall Leverette, Ira Margolis, Matt Aube and Justin Finnegan. (Photo by Lauren Thomas)

For the past year, Police Commission members in New Paltz have worked hard to keep Chief Joseph Snyder accountable, questioning his spending, hiring and staffing decisions at almost every turn. The Police Commission in 2011 has pushed so hard that they’ve had to ask town attorney Joe Moriello exactly where their power ends and the chief’s begins.

At various times, Chief Snyder, Supervisor Toni Hokanson and Deputy Supervisor Jane Ann Williams have all accused the five-member civilian oversight group of trying to micromanage the New Paltz Police Department.

Apparently, that hard-line activism hasn’t gone unnoticed at the Town Board. During the Dec. 15 meeting, the board considered a new law that would permanently dissolve the commission.

Ira Margolis, the acting Police Commission chairman, made sure to register his displeasure with the Town Board’s plan.

“I believe the commission is broken,” the acting chairman admitted to the board. Margolis said that a key problem for the board was not knowing the true authority of their role. The acting chairman said he thought the town had other options than just eliminating the Police Commission altogether.

“It seems this action is being rushed,” Margolis said. “Let’s work to fix the problems together.”

He added that Police Commission members felt that they were living up to the job role entrusted to them in the town code — safeguarding the taxpayers’ money.

Despite the occasional nerve they hit, commissioners worked closely with the chief and found about $70,000 of cuts to make to the 2012 budget. The Town Board’s unprecedented failure to pass the budget on time in November meant that none of their careful plan went into action.

Commissioner Matt Aube also asked the board to reconsider their plan. “I find the timing of this proposal to dissolve the Police Commission highly suspect,” he said.

Aube said that the Town Board itself had some share of culpability for breakdown on the commission since they never gave any feedback to the subcommittee. He asked that the town tweak the law establishing the role of the commission — rather than doing away with it.

For Councilman Jeff Logan, the New Paltz Police Commission is a bit of an oddity. Not many other towns in Ulster County have them.

“If you look at other communities, they’re not doing this. More government doesn’t equal better government,” Logan said.

He added that he felt having the commission separated the Town Board from one of its most important jobs — managing the finances of its largest department.

Supervisor Hokanson agreed with the assessment that the town might be rushing into dissolving the commission. Chief Synder, for all his head-butting with current commission, also felt similarly.

“He’s in shock that this is on the agenda,” she said.

Town Board members agreed to let the next version of the Town Board take up the issue after being sworn in in January. ++