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updated: 7/24/2014 12:40 PM

Elgin looks at changing fire, police board makeup

Panel narrowly passes measure to add city staff members

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  • Video: Elgin board changes

  • Elgin Fire Chief John Fahy, left, and Elgin Police Chief Jeff Swoboda will become members of the city's board of fire and police commissioners if the Elgin City Council finalizes its preliminary decision made Wednesday night.

       Elgin Fire Chief John Fahy, left, and Elgin Police Chief Jeff Swoboda will become members of the city's board of fire and police commissioners if the Elgin City Council finalizes its preliminary decision made Wednesday night.
    Elena Ferrarin | Staff Photographer

 
 

A proposal to change the makeup of Elgin's board of fire and police commissioners -- with city staff members outnumbering residents -- narrowly moved forward Wednesday night.

Elgin Mayor David Kaptain and councilmen John Steffen, Toby Shaw, John Prigge and Terry Gavin voted at the committee of the whole meeting in favor of adding the city's police chief, fire chief and director of human resources to the board, which also would include two residents.

Councilwoman Tish Powell voted against that, and she instead proposed that four residents serve alongside the three staff members.

The five-member board, which has been two members short since May 2010, always has been made up of residents.

Powell pointed out the board lost the power to make disciplinary decisions several years ago.

"I just want the majority of that input (on the board) to come from our residents, and that's the feedback I've gotten from folks as well," she said.

Councilwomen Carol Rauschenberger and Rose Martinez and Councilman Rich Dunne sided with Powell.

"I support having more citizens' input, especially since (police and fire) are public servants and their main job is to interact with citizens," Rauschenberger said.

Gavin called that a "specious argument," saying the police and fire chief know best whom to hire.

"It is misguided to hire or commission people who are amateurs in the field of law enforcement or firefighting to make these decisions," he said.

Over the years, some "clunkers" have been hired by the board, including one who caused "tremendous problems" a few years ago, Kaptain said.

"I think it was wrong that we hadn't done this before," he said. "I'd be furious if I were them (the police and fire chief)."

Dunne, a former firefighter, says he'd much prefer a civilian board, because public safety is a category all its own.

"They have the power of arrest, they have the power to carry a weapon and use lethal force, they have the power to make life or death decision," he said.

City Manager Sean Stegall pointed out the chiefs are responsible for their staffs' actions. "(Right now), citizens are making the final hiring decisions yet accountability rests with the police and fire chief," he said.

But the chiefs already have ultimate hiring power, because they evaluate new hires at the end of a 16-month probationary period that includes physical and psychological testing and a training academy, board chairwoman Mary Camacho said.

"I think the council doesn't really understand how things work," she said.

She also questioned how the police and fire chiefs could find the time to serve on the board, whose members have put in up to 1,000 volunteer hours in years when both the police and fire departments were hiring, she said.

Councilmembers also approved changing educational hiring requirements for certain police officers from a bachelor's degree to 60 college credit hours.

The change would apply only to veterans with three years of active duty, current police officers with three years of full-time experience, current Elgin community service officers with three years of full-time experience, and those who put in at least four years and 400 community service hours into Elgin's Police Explorer program.

The board of police and fire commissioners opposes doing so for Police Explorers, but the city council has ultimate say.

Panel: Chiefs already have ultimate hiring power, board chairman points out

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