Sometimes you have to settle for small victories on the way to the big ones.
As longer-time readers know, I have been following the Woodstock Board of Fire and Police Commissioners meetings. This Board of the City of Woodstock is an important board, because it has the power to make career-ending decisions regarding employment of police officers in Woodstock.
Some say I've been pretty hard on them, but that has not been the intention. The Board is manned by three residents in Woodstock, one of whom happens to be the police chief of a small community nearby.
Some would say that this gives the chief here an edge, because it is generally believed that cops don't go against cops. The Board showed this was not the case in February 2008, when it voted 3-0 against the Woodstock police chief and decided he had not made his case in the attempt to fire Sgt. Steve Gorski. It changed its mind this month and voted 3-0 in the chief's favor, even though no additional testimony by the chief was permitted or accepted; the Board did, however, allow the chief to amend his original complaint and then allowed the chief to submit the rules and regulations of the P.D., which should have been accepted only during his original testimony.
For years the Board met in the police station - in the conference room right off the chief's office. No wonder no one ever showed up at these public meetings. They didn't look "public" or "open" to anyone. When you showed up at the P.D., you had to wait in the lobby until someone came to escort you to the second floor conference room.
I ragged on the City pretty hard about this and, to their credit, they decided to change the location of the periodic meetings of this important Board. The Board now meets at City Hall. Now the work begins to get more residents interested in what is happening and get them to attend these meetings.
Then I noticed that the Board meetings were still being announced on stationery of the Police Department. Wait just a minute! This Board is a public body of the City of Woodstock, not of the Police Department. And now? City stationery (City Hall address) was used to announce the most recent meeting of this Board.
The next step is to find out whether the Board has received the Open Meetings Act (OMA) training outlined in a letter from the City Attorney on May 19. The Board was violating OMA rules fairly often.
For example, when it didn't tape-record Executive Sessions, that was a violation of the OMA. When it made a decision in Executive Session and then merely announced it once back in Open Session, that was a violation.
When it made a decision in Executive Session and announced it once back in Open Session, and then voted on it, that was a violation.
When it didn't call the roll once back in Open Session, that was a violation.
All the Board needs is a recipe (outline) to follow, and it'll stay in the clear. To some, this will look like nit-picking. Maybe it is. All right, it is. But the rules are for a reason and they are easy to follow.
Being the City's firing managers (for cops) is not an easy job. It's a very serious role. It deserves the attention of the public and the respect of all.
I'm not aware of any mechanism by which the public can bring attention to the Board of police problems in the community. There are some matters of concern now for which residents are waiting for answers. Two of them may involve conduct unbecoming an officer and should result in lengthy suspensions, if not termination itself.
Once a citizen makes a complaint to the chief, how long should it taken before an investigation commences and the citizen is informed of its status or conclusion?
And, when there is something smelly going on inside the department that all the officers and command personnel know about, why doesn't it get met head-on and dealt with? When a supervisor's habits are less than stellar and result in a poor reflection on the department, this obviously impairs his ability to lead. When that happens, you get rid of that supervisor. Well, in a perfect world, anyway.
Another question that seems to linger is why the police chief has not moved to Woodstock. There used to be a provision in the City Code that the chief had to live in Woodstock. I read it there, and now I can't find it. How does something disappear from the City Code?
If someone knows where it is, please clue me in. Often, a department head might be given some breathing room for meeting such a requirement; for example, he might be allowed a year to sell his house and buy one in town. In an adverse real estate market, that period might even be extended, but that breather must have run out some time ago. Is there still such a requirement on residency?