B y Lee Tugas
The Whitehall Town Board agrees with the Village Board that village police should have full legal jurisdiction at Whitehall Central School.
At its monthly meeting Wednesday, Oct. 9, the board members cited the example of Mechanicville, where city police have jurisdiction at the city school district which lies in the town of Half Moon.
That claim is substantiated by a letter from James D. Cole, assistant attorney general in charge of opinions, to W. Donald Carola, Mechanicville city attorney.
“You have asked,” Cole writes Carola, “whether the City of Mechanicville may provide police services …” “…on school property that is located outside the city in the Town of Halfmoon.”
The letter continues as follows:
“We conclude that a city may enter into a municipal cooperation agreement with a town for the provision of police services by the city on city school district property located in the town,” Cole writes.
Both the Whitehall Village Board and now the Whitehall Town Board want village police to have, in law, full jurisdiction and liability protection whenever village police respond to a potential police matter at Whitehall Central School.
James Watson, Whitehall Superintendent, said he has spoke with Mayor Peter Telisky but has yet to speak with anyone from the town.
“I see some benefits to the concept,” said Watson. “I believe it warrants further discussion.”
However, because of his impending retirement at the end of the month, Watson said it’s matter the school board and new superintendent, Elizabeth Legault, will have to address.
The idea was first proposed by Village Trustee Ken Bartholomew at a Tuesday, Oct. 1, meeting of the village board. Bartholomew proposed annexing Buckley Road, and part of Route 4, if need be, in order to accord village police full legal jurisdiction and liability protection on school grounds.
Bartholomew referred the matter to Village Attorney Erika Sellar Ryan, since it involves “three governmental entities,” namely town, village and county.
In light of the letter from Assistant Attorney General Cole to Mechancville City Attorney Carola, the matter may not be as complicated as Bartholomew originally believed.
Town Attorney Christian Morris, who cited the example of Mechanicville, explained that the town and the village simply have to enter into an agreement where village police have access on town roads to the school. “The school would not have any say,” he said.
Town Supervisor George Armstrong joked that such annexation would not involve any sharing of the town’s taxable properties. At the village meeting on Oct. 1, Trustee Bartholomew had stressed, in all seriousness, that his proposal was not a move on the part of the Village of Whitehall to increase its tax base.
Based on Mechancville’s example, Attorney Morris said it might be relatively easy to “implement the idea,” but he agreed to the Town Board’s request “to see” exactly “how it was done in Mechancville.”
One stumbling block may be the fact, as pointed out by Assistant Attorney General Cole, that Mechancville city police are providing services to a city school on city school property that just happens to lie within the boundaries of the Town of Halfmoon.
Whitehall Village and Town Boards are exploring a slightly different idea. They seek to secure legal authorization and liability protection for village police to patrol a central school clearly located within the boundaries of Whitehall Township. It is common knowledge that laws governing city schools and central schools are not identical.
Town Councilman George Hollister and Highway Superintendent Louis Pratt appeared optimistic that the town and village could move ahead on the proposal. At one point, when everyone was talking at once, Supervisor Armstrong asked Hollister what Pratt had just said.
Hollister replied, “Louis just said, ‘It looks like we can get away with a lot.’”
Perhaps: Cole clearly indicates in his closing signature that he is “Assistant Attorney General in Charge of Opinions.”
Referring to his boss, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Cole wrote as follows:
“The Attorney General renders formal opinions only to officers and departments of state government. This perforce is an informal and unofficial expression of the views of this office.”