OPINION: Quincy Police and Fire Commission believes it is best suited to continue role
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 at 2:40 pm on (September 7, the date of the first reading before the City Council). Prior to today, there have been no discussions with the Commission about a proposed change and its potential impact. Further, during our past eight years of serving the city, there’s been no feedback indicating there was a problem with any part of the hiring, promotion or discipline processes. During our most recent Fire Chief search, every candidate applauded the interview process and indicated it thoroughly tested them. The Commission respectfully disagrees with the proposed ordinance that would change the selection authority, reappointment and removal process for the city’s Fire and Police chiefs.
Our functions as governed by IL Municipal Code Chapter 65, Sections 5/10-2.1-1 thru 5/10-2.1-31, City Ordinance 9309, approved 27 June 2017 and our Rules and Regulations of the Board, as amended, 2 January 2019, provides the Commission the authority to appoint new members to the Fire and Police Departments, promote officers within the departments and discipline officers when the decision is above the Chiefs’ authority.
Since March 2014, Commissioners Kerry Anders, Steve Meckes and I have served the city as Fire and Police Commissioners. 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.
When we assumed our duties as Commissioners, we changed the process to test and evaluate candidates by setting minimum standards to interview with the commission, changing the weighting of testing and interviews, and adding greater rigor to the interview process. Further, we rewrote a 1992 ordinance that no longer fully complied with IL statute or local policy and procedures. One of the changes to the ordinance was the council’s request to advertise both Chiefs’ positions both internal and external to the department.
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 the Mayor and Director of Administration 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 around 18 years, seems it’s a reasonable investment to get a qualified Chief.
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. This arrangement would give the appearance of politicizing our emergency response capabilities within the city. Further, who would administer the process of selecting the Chief? I personally spent over 50 manhours through the 5-month process of hiring our current Fire Chief. It was time well spent, but a new process would have to form to orchestrate selections of the Chiefs.
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. 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.
In conclusion, the Commission is best suited to select our city’s Fire and Police Chiefs. We request this statement be documented as a matter of record and included in the council meeting minutes.
Barry Cheyne, Chairman, Quincy Police and Fire Commission and Kerry Anders and Stephen Meckes, Commissioners.
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