STEUBENVILLE - The Charter Review Commission voted Thursday to keep language allowing outside candidates to apply for future police chief vacancies in the proposed city charter revisions that will be voted on in November.
Five of the commission members favored allowing internal and external applicants to seek the chief's job, while two members abstained and two members voted for a proposal by Rob Cook representing the Fraternal Order of Police Ohio Labor Council.
"Myself and the officers I represent feel this would be unfair and counter productive to the city administration, the citizens the administration serves, the police department as an organization and the dedicated employees that comprise the police department," Cook told the commission members at the start of the 90-minute meeting.
Cook was supported in his public comments by five current police officers and one retired officer.
"I'm sure the first thing you are thinking is that nobody is saying current employees wouldn't be able to apply for future police chief vacancies. We understand this but what you may fail to realize is that with this proposal you are saying the loyal, competent, dedicated employees who have spent a career serving this community, purchased homes here, raised families here, paid their dues to this city and department and paid taxes here would now run the risk someone who has no ties to this city and no personal stake in making this a better, safer community coming in and impressing someone responsible for making the hiring decision with fancy words, glowing recommendations and posh schooling and training. None of which are any indication of how an individual will perform as a police chief," Cook continued.
"I'm sure on paper there would be a number of people outside the department that would appear qualified. But the logical choice is always going to come from within where the successor would already have a working knowledge of the city, its residents, its administration and most importantly the knowledge, skills and abilities of each individual on the police department," Cook said.
Cook also addressed commission member Jim Mavromatis who has lobbied for allowing outside candidates to apply for a police chief vacancy along with internal candidates.
"We know you are an experienced and educated man that has been around the block when it comes to federal law enforcement. But on this topic you are wrong. And any other committee member who supports this notion is wrong as well. You yourself were a special agent in charge within the Drug Enforcement Agency. Did you not have to work your way up to that position or does the DEA accept external applicants to that position?" questioned Cook.
"We know the decision ultimately lies in the hands of the voters. With this one detail you run the very real chance of losing the support of most, if not all members of the police department. With that likely goes the support of the families and close friends of the employees you are attempting to undermine. We are here today to ask you to carefully reconsider this matter before it is presented to council and the voters of this fine city we faithfully serve and protect each day," Cook concluded.
Commission member Rikki Kamarados said her only concern was if no internal police officer was interested in a police chief vacancy.
Cook said he could accept outside candidates in the event no current police officer was interested in the chief's job or did not qualify for the position.
City resident Teresa DiCarlantonio said she understood and respected loyalty, "but we need to look outside for a future police chief because of the issues in the city."
"I have people selling drugs in my neighborhood and nothing is done. We are looking for hope. That's the reality. Maybe someone from the outside the good old boys system will bring hope. I'm tired of what goes on and so are the residents. We need people in the department who are assertive and aggressive and will make a difference. I understand loyalty but something is wrong in this city. I can't pinpoint it. But we have had 10 years of the nonsense and I am tired of it and so are the voters," stated DiCarlantonio.
"All communities are fighting the same issues. Bringing in an outsider won't make a difference," responded commission member Patrick Riley.
After the police officers left the meeting Mavromatis said if the voters support the changes of how a chief is selected, "it will send a message to the city leaders. If they so no to the changes that is fine."
"Officer Cook had some valid points. But we have spent way too much time on this issue. I say let the voters make the decision," noted Mavromatis.
The commission agreed to allow internal officer at the rank of captain with five years of experience or external captains with five years of experience in any law enforcement agency to apply for a future police chief vacancy.
The commission also changed the fire department qualifications for chief to include assistant chiefs or captains with five years of experience and noted the firefighters union has contractual bargaining agreement limiting candidates to current city firefighters.
Commission Chairman John J. Mascio said the Commission members will announce at the evening public meeting at 7 p.m. on May 8 at Eastern Gateway Community College what changes they have made in the current salaries for City Council members and the mayor's position.
The Commission will meet again at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Historic Fort Steuben Visitors Center to review the proposed charter language changes once more. No meeting is scheduled for April 17.