The Executive Order 203 Oversight Committee, specifically chairman Ray Harvey and Malvina Holloway from NAACP, the Newburgh-Highland Falls Branch, have expressed their concerns on the City of Newburgh and its coordination and communication with the committee.
Holloway and Harvey are calling for a more transparent collaboration for the committee, the city government and the public. Currently, there is no action plan put in place and the committee has been calling on the city to make changes for the committee, which would in turn allow them to work smoother and create a sound plan for the April 1 deadline they face as per Governor Andrew Cuomo’s orders.
On top of an absent action plan and timeline, the committee has also faced issues regarding the lack of a website and an incorrect name that didn’t reflect what the work they’re doing is.
When the committee was originally created, it was known as the Police Advisory Committee.
“We want the name to reflect the work,” said Holloway. “It was advisory and that’s not what the committee is supposed to be doing. And, it seemed more like commission, which is what the city manager called it in the beginning.”
They called for a website to be created so the public could have easy access to the documents and policies that were discussed at each meeting. The idea to change the name of the committee and to create a website was brought up at their October 27 meeting, in which Harvey stated how “it’s important for the community to know what we’re doing.” Harvey explained that a lot of Newburgh residents didn’t know about the committee and in order to continue widespread community discussion there also needed to be more committee members.
“The community as a whole should be heard,” said Harvey at the October meeting. “If people aren’t being represented by someone, then we are missing an opportunity of doing justice for the community.”
While the website went live in early December, it isn’t necessarily what they were expecting. For one, Holloway described how hard it is to find on the city website. Instead of being under the dropdown menu under “Boards and Commissions,” you have to go to the Police Department page first, which then has the committee listed on the side menu.
Additionally, it doesn’t have all of the resources they imagined it would. The site gives an overview of what the committee does, who is on it (although Holloway said “not everyone is included” like Police Chief Arnold Amthor and Senior Advisor Robert McLymore), documents including the original executive order, a guidebook and a more recent community update, as well as all of the archived meetings.
“Where are the working documents that show what’s being done?” asked Holloway. “The public trust that is to be developed is not happening.”
During the meetings the committee references a number of documents that the public does not have access to or are able to follow along with.
“I asked for data that I haven’t got,” said Harvey at the November 7 meeting. “To me this turned into a dog and pony show for the police department and I’m fed up with it. I have nothing. The community doesn’t know what we are doing. For someone to come on that has nothing to do with this committee, they will have no idea what we’re talking about.”
“This thing should be driven by data, and it’s not being done that way,” said Harvey.
Councilwoman Ramona Monteverde expressed her confusion with Harvey’s comments and said that she is “unsure of what the work of this committee is” and asked “don’t we have to do the work first?”
In December there was a powerpoint community update released on the progress. While the powerpoint may have been helpful to some as it outlined some of the updates and work done so far, Holloway believes that it should not be in place of a full action plan and a timeline for the rest of the committee’s work.
“At this point, the comprehensive review that is in the executive order, where the local government is on that – we don’t know,” said Holloway. “There’s a powerpoint, but an actual plan format needs to be in place and they need to have a full committee with the stakeholders.”
The NAACP has sent several letters to the city government asking for increased collaboration and transparency during this initiative. Recently they sent one out dated November 23 that called for better community trust and more progress towards the goals of the executive order.
“We are compelled to sound the alarm after numerous attempts to collaborate with the City of Newburgh, and to inform of gross negligence on behalf of the City of Newburgh to carry out the requirements set forth in New York State Police Reform and Reinvention Executive Order 203,” read the letter. “What we have experienced causes grave concern. The gravity of ending racial disparities using Executive Order 203, as one tool, continues without a set path for completion, although five months into the process.”
City Manager Joseph Donat responded saying he was “surprised” and “disappointed.”
“The contents, allegations and statements made are misrepresentations of the important work that we have achieved together,” said Donat.
More recently they circled back to the City of Newburgh asking that they work towards achieving the checklist in the New York State guidebook for this initiative in a more collaborative way. The checklist includes the local government having a comprehensive review of current policies, strategies, practices and deployments, a plan developed to improve said policies, strategies, practices and deployments, consultation with stakeholders, a draft form for public comment and a local law or resolution passed by April 1, 2021.
“The NAACP is saying let’s have a process that lets us know we’re on track, and we don’t know that right now,” said Holloway.