Fire and police commissioner calls near two-month delay to start search for new police chief ‘disappointing, frustrating’

Rein Cheyne Mays

From left, Mike Rein, Barry Cheyne and Jeff Mays

QUINCY — Near the end of Monday’s meeting of the Quincy City Council, Mayor Mike Troup announced the police aldermanic committee will meet at 6 p.m. Feb. 7.

That meeting will mark the official beginning of the city’s search for a police chief. Fifty-six days will have passed since Rob Copley announced his intent to retire May 6 during the Dec. 13 meeting of the City Council. 

“It’s disappointing. It’s frustrating,” said Barry Cheyne, one of three members of the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners who will coordinate the interview process and select Copley’s replacement. 

“If the citizens of Quincy understood what was happening or the lack thereof, it’s a bad thing. The goal was to have a new police chief by the first of May. Based on the circumstances and lack of progress, there’s really no way we’ll meet that.”

The Board of Fire and Police Commissioners sent a request to aldermen on Dec. 21 for the expenditure of $9,000 to the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police to assist in conducting a police chief search. Alderman sent the request fo the police aldermanic committee, comprised of chairman Mike Rein, R-5, Tony Sassen, R-4, and Kelly Mays, R-3.

“We want to treat (this request) the same as anybody,” Rein said at that meeting. “It needs to be vetted. The council depends on committees doing their job. This didn’t happen when (the fire and police commissioners) hired the new fire chief (Bernie Vahlkamp was hired in July). It really should have happened. Their proposal looks solid to me, but we’ve got to look at it, tear it apart. Then we’ll come back with some suggestions and recommendations.”

IACP giving fire and police commissioners ‘Quincy discount’

While the fire and police commissioners waited for the police aldermanic committee to meet, the IACP said Jan. 7 it would reduce the cost of the police chief executive search to $7,499 — one dollar below the threshold listed in the city’s purchasing manual that would allow Jeff Mays, the city’s director of purchasing, to approve the cost without the blessing of the police aldermanic committee.

“I call it the ‘Quincy discount,’ because the city has used us for several assessments in the past, and Chief Copley was an active member who has given us a lot of time and expertise over the years,” Cheyne told aldermen at their Jan. 24 meeting.

However, Mays did not approve the commissioners’ request.

“Their request for $9,000 had the same array of services that was included in the $7,499 request,” Mays said after Monday’s City Council meeting. “Because we had already referred the scope of the services to that committee, I did not see a point in superseding that referral by an administrative action.”

Rein said after Monday’s City Council meeting he had been out of town for the past three weeks because of a family issue.

“We couldn’t get the committee together. There’s no point in having a meeting if everybody can’t be there,” he said.

Rein: Plenty of time to find Copley replacement before May 1

Cheyne said he and commissioner Kerry Anders spoke to aldermen at the Jan. 24 meeting to make sure they all knew about the lack of progress. Cheyne told them that if the goal is to have a new police chief hired by May 1, “we’re already two weeks behind that goal.”

Rein disagrees on the timeframe.

“We have plenty of time,” he said. “I have no objection to (having Copley’s replacement in place by May 1). I see no reason that can’t happen. We can get him here a month before the chief leaves.”

“The fact that we have made no progress in (49 days), you know, the skeptical mind says, ‘What’s going on here?’” Cheyne said Monday. “We’re compliant with the current ordinance (to start the search for a new police chief). We’re compliant with the city’s purchasing manual. Yet we haven’t got off from square one with the hiring process.”

Cheyne doesn’t understand why the $7,499 expenditure isn’t already approved.

“How you want to conduct a police chief executive search involves hiring a professional agency to help with that,” he said. “We hire them to come to Quincy to evaluate lieutenant candidates. They’re a proven organization that does that kind of work. So why would you dumb down the process? It makes no sense to me. We haven’t hired a police chief in 18 years. I’m thinking spending $7,500 is not too far out of the box.”

Cheyne: Commissioners could handle process, but ‘it doesn’t seem wise’

Cheyne says the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police will take all the applications, screen applicants, give all applicants a questionnaire about their background and experience and ability, then come to Quincy and run through a full-day assessment of each candidate.

“I don’t think anybody here in Quincy, including this commission, is qualified to do that level of work,” Cheyne said. “That’s why we think it’s important to the overall process to make sure we hire the right person and that it’s done the right way. I’m thinking $7,500 is not too for out of the box. 

“Could (the commissioners) do it? And do our own interviews and so on? I guess, but it doesn’t seem like a wise thing to do.”

The fire and police commission would appoint a temporary chief if it doesn’t name a chief before Copley leaves office.

Aldermen voted Oct. 4 to table “indefinitely” an amendment to the Code of Ordinances for the City of Quincy that would call for the mayor — instead of the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners — to appoint and terminate the city’s police and fire chiefs.

“We understand the history of (the ordinance) in September,” Cheyne said. “The month-long debate over proposed new language to the ordinance, we certainly haven’t forgot that. 

“What we’re forgetting here are the men and women who work in this police department and keep the city safe. We’re not going to get them their proper leadership in place and continue to provide the service that they expect. The (police officers) know what’s going on. They’re very frustrated. I hope we don’t lose sight that we have professional men and women working in the Quincy Police Department. We should make sure we support them properly and in public safety in general.”

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