OPINION: Police and Fire Commissioners remain opposed to any change to proposed ordinance

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PUBLISHER’S NOTE: The speakers regarding the proposed changes to the police and fire commissioners’ duties in hiring chiefs for the respective departments were tabled along with the resolution. The Quincy Police and Fire Commission sent new remarks to Muddy River News. JRG

We appreciate the opportunity to present our perspective on the proposed ordinance change.  We were appointed by former Mayor Kyle Moore in March of 2014.  By way of introduction the three members of the Commission are; Kerry Anders, an educator and coach in the public school system for 35 years.  It seems that Kerry has either coached or given driving instruction to everyone he meets.   Steve Meckes a Quincy native with 40 plus years of senior management experience primarily in Human Resources.  Steve has a lot of experience with the selection of executives, managers and professional staff.  My background is 28 years in the United States Air Force, 3 times a police chief, retiring from the Pentagon one year after the international terrorist attack. I served 12 more years as a senior federal civil servant for a DoD Agency, managing all aspects of policy, human resources and a $15M annual budget for 150 military, civilian and contractor personnel dedicated to combatting the war on terrorism.  We believe Mayor Moore did an excellent job appointing a Board, on a non-partisan basis, with a wide range of related experience.

The members of the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners, Quincy, IL were officially informed of a proposed change to the Fire and Police ordinance on September 7, 2021.  We assume the Mayor and the council has read our statement dated September 7, 2021 and emailed to all of you on September 8, 2021.  The Commission position remains the same – we respectfully disagree with the proposed ordinance that would change the selection authority, reappointment and removal process for the city’s Fire and Police chiefs.

The Commission has provided outstanding service to the city of Quincy.  During this period, the Commission hired 33 new police officers, promoted 16 patrol officers of the police department to Sgt, Lt, and affirmed 3 Deputy Chief selections.  Within our Fire Department, the Commission hired 14 new firefighters, promoted 16 firefighters to the ranks of Lt, Captain and Assistant Chief, affirmed the selection of 2 Deputy Chiefs and recently selected the Fire Chief.

Since this proposed ordinance was presented on September 7, 2021, there has been no explanation about how the Mayor’s appointment of the department chiefs would be improved, other than saying, the selection would be based on merit and fitness, which of course is the criteria we have always adhered to.  There’s been no discussion on appointment criteria, appointment process, and what constitutes cause for dismissal.  The proposed ordinance would result in unilateral selection process void of Commission involvement.  Along with the unknown costs associated with outside legal counsel to provide legal support to draft the ordinance, there would certainly be additional costs involved. Our current Fire and Police ordinance documents a discipline process for members of both departments should that situation arise.  Like any fair and impartial organization, the Chiefs in this case, should know what their expectations are, be counseled if they don’t meet them, be given training if deficiencies are noted and then be reevaluated.  The Commission would rely on written counseling documentation, a human resources and legal coordination and any other expertise required in conducting a hearing.  During our commission tenure, we’ve conducted two hearings and directed discipline to the respective departments’ employee.  Three other sworn employees choose to resign in lieu of a commission hearing.  In the bigger picture, one would think a Chief’s discipline action would be a rare occasion, but nevertheless the process is already in place in the current ordinance.  

We applaud the views of others, specifically, our former mayor and fire and police commissioner, recently retired fire chief and the leaders of both the fire and police unions.  These views were presented on their own accord.  Their concerns of politicizing the departments, minimizing Chief continuity, introducing skepticism in selection within both departments as well as with the citizens of Quincy are all valid points.  These four men have lived or are currently living through the Commission’s selection process of the two chiefs.  In addition, we have talked with former fire and police commissioners, their common feedback is “the Commission was set up for the main purpose of keeping politics and favoritism out of the selection process.”  

As we started the process to hire the city’s current Fire Chief in February 2021, we looked at several options to ensure we met the spirit and intent of the ordinance while setting up a process that thoroughly tested each candidate applying for the position.  In March 2021, we met with Mayor Moore and Director of Administration, Jeff Mays to provide our proposed process for hiring the next Fire Chief and the associated costs. The administration then was in full support of our proposal and asked us to proceed.  During the hiring process, we provided two updates to the current Mayor and one to the Council on 28 June 2021 to maintain transparency in the selection process. The process included a nearly two-month review of each candidate’s ability to lead and manage an organization by the Illinois Fire Chiefs Association (IFCA).   The IFCA was also contracted to conduct a resume review and propose an interview group of 4-5 candidates.  The process here in Quincy conducted on 8 July 2021 included a stakeholder’s group of local leaders led by the Mayor who interviewed 3 candidates, two internal and one external. The Commission also conducted interviews on 8 July 2021 with these candidates.  Selection of the Fire Chief was data driven and measured by the IFCA, the stakeholder’s group and the Commission.  The city paid the IFCA $11.4K to gather resumes, conduct the applicant search, narrow the applicant pool and provide a two-month series of management exercises.  Ironically, the City paid the same IFCA $11.4K to conduct QFD promotion exercises for the ranks of Lt, Capt, and Assistant Chief four months earlier with no issues on costs.  These costs are directed by the QFD CBA and approved by the city.  We haven’t hired a Fire Chief in 12 years and the current police chief tenure is nearing 18 years, seems it’s a reasonable investment to get a qualified Chief.  I personally spent over 50 manhours through the 5-month process of hiring our current Fire Chief.  I’m paid a stipend of $172. a month, the other two commissioners received about $20. less.  At the same time, we were involved with hiring a Fire Chief, we were in various stages of hiring 8 fire and police officers.  So, our hourly rate was around $2. an hour, we don’t do this job for the money!  

To amend our ordinance making the Mayor the selection and reappointment authority for the Fire and Police Chief is short-sighted.  While the IL statute allows for this arrangement and you have been advised accordingly, we don’t see this to be in the best interest of the citizens of Quincy, the continuity with the two departments and, most importantly, for the 130 sworn fire and police officers who rely on unbiased, non-partisan direction from their Chiefs.  In our eight years on the Commission, we’ve interviewed hundreds of police and fire candidates and interviewed over a hundred and fifty for promotion within the two departments.  During the application process and subsequent initial and promotional interviews, there’s no identification of political party nor is it ever been discussed to include our current Chiefs.  The proposed ordinance, would allow and give the appearance of politicizing our emergency response capabilities within the city.  

It is our position that the Commission is best suited to address all hiring and promotion matters within the two departments.  We’re dedicated to transparency, fairness and impartiality.  Our credibility speaks for itself.  We invite anyone to look at our processes.  In addition, we provide briefings and updates to new council members; fire and police academies; police alumni associations; community groups to address diversity within the departments, and local civic groups.  We attend swearing-in ceremonies and other department activities.  This tells you that we take our duties seriously and execute them professionally.  To suggest otherwise is baseless.

Barry Cheyne, Chairman

Kerry Anders, Stephen Meckes, Commissioners

Quincy Fire and Police Commission

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