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updated: 8/27/2014 11:52 PM

Elgin council changes fire, police board makeup

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The hiring of police officers and firefighters in Elgin now will be in the hands of three residents plus the police and fire chiefs.

The Elgin City Council voted Wednesday to change the makeup of the board of fire and police commissioners, which has traditionally been composed of five residents but has been short two members since 2010.

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Elgin -- which as a home rule community can enact its own policies -- likely is the first municipality in the state to add the public safety chiefs to its board, experts say.

Last month, Mayor David Kaptain and councilmen John Steffen, Toby Shaw, John Prigge and Terry Gavin had voted at the committee of the whole meeting in favor of adding to the board the two chiefs plus the director of human resources, along with two residents.

However, on Wednesday Steffen proposed eliminating the human resources director from the lineup while adding a third resident.

That will ensure that residents maintain their traditional control of the board, while allowing the police and fire chiefs, or their designees, to have a vote in the hiring process, he said.

Kaptain, along with council members Rose Martinez, Rich Dunne, Tish Powell and Carol Rauschenberger, sided with Steffen.

Councilman John Prigge disagreed. "We cannot exclude hiring professionals as a majority," he said.

Shaw said the board has made some blunders, such as when gang members were hired as police officers.

City Manager Sean Stegall clarified that happened in the early 1990s, and it was not individuals who were gang members but some had gang affiliations. Background checks are done by city staff members, not the board itself, Powell pointed out.

Elgin Police Chief Jeff Swoboda said he was happy to have input in the hiring process moving forward.

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.

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