Southold Town Councilman Jim Dinizio resigned Tuesday from the town’s Justice Review and Reform Task Force, which is responsible for reforming police practices, citing different management styles from Supervisor Scott Russell.
“Please accept my resignation as a member of the Justice Review and Reform Task Force,” Mr. Dinizio said in a statement read at Tuesday’s Southold Town Board meeting. “After attending two meetings, it has become obvious to me the differences in management style between Supervisor Russell and myself will only hinder the free flow of information required for the task force to accomplish its difficult goals Governor Cuomo has mandated. I thank you for the honor and regret that this is the only way that I can contribute to the important work of the task force.”
The task force is a result of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order in June requiring all municipalities in the state to adopt a police reform plan by April 1, 2021, in order to be eligible for future state funding.
Mr. Russell said in response Wednesday, “I am hesitant to speculate on reasons. However, Jim and I had differing opinions on how the task force should function. I believe that the task force should operate as a truly independent, community-driven body working in collaboration with the town, not under the direct and regular control of the town.”
Mr. Russell said he will defer to task force members on how they envision their roles and the role of the town.
“Scott isn’t entirely wrong,” Mr. Dinizio said in an interview Wednesday. “It’s just that we all need to be on the same page.”
He said it should be “what the committee wants and feels comfortable with, not what Scott feels comfortable with.”
Mr. Dinizio also feels that the state mandate requiring the task force “really isn’t that clear.”
“If the town is going to be involved, and we’re going to be having the police chief there and all that, they should have to announce their meetings and give an agenda,” he added. “Those meetings are supposed to be public.”
But Mr. Dinizio said his disagreement with Mr. Russell’s management style had nothing to do with the task force being considered a town function, which the Town Board had already decided. He said he resigned because Mr. Russell was meeting privately with members of the task force and not inviting Town Board members to participate.
The town appointed about 18 members to the task force on Sept. 22, according to Mr. Russell. They included representatives from the town, Greenport Village, community members and police representatives, among others.
“The meetings are open to the public and the Zoom link is published with the public notices of the meetings,” the supervisor said.
The town is working with the task force to integrate the meetings to the town’s website and to establish a Facebook page, Mr. Russell said.
Southold’s task force actually got a headstart on the governor’s plan.
Carolyn Peabody, who is the chair of the committee, said a group of four women — herself, Sister Margaret Smythe, Laura Held and Val Shelby — sent a letter to the Town Board in June from North Fork Unity Action Committee, asking the board to undertake a comprehensive assessment of the justice system in Southold in light of some of the things happening nationally. The Town Board invited them to a work session in July, where Ms. Peabody designed a two-page outline for the framework for a possible task force. The following month, Mr. Cuomo required all municipalities with police departments to issue a police reform plan to the state.