As I drove to tonight's Woodstock City Council meeting, I thought about this great country and how we are governed. Seems like I heard years ago that it is "Government of the people, by the people, for the people." With that thought in mind, I arrived at the meeting - almost on time, but not quite.
I had seen the agenda for tonight's meeting and that Det. Cipolla was to be promoted to Sergeant. Having been reading the Minutes of the Police and Fire Commission online and having the beginnings of understanding as to how that Commission is supposed to operate, I wondered how the Police Department was going to promote him, when no Minutes (available online) reflected any consideration by the Commission of such a promotion.
I also wondered how the Police Department was able to promote him. Was there a vacancy in the Department? Were they filling the spot that is held by Sgt. Steve Gorski? Was the quota of sergeants being increased?
The agenda for tonight's meeting was ordered so that the promotion and oath of office for Det. Cipolla's promotion preceded the Public Comment period.
I asked the City Council why all the Police and Fire Commission meeting Minutes are not posted online. The Agendas appears online, but Minutes of all meetings do not. I suggested that it is critical for Minutes of all meetings to be prepared. If the Commission meets, Minutes should be recorded. If they go into closed session, then Minutes of the closed session should be kept separately. When the closed session ends, the Minutes of the open portion of the meeting resume.
I also asked for more notice to the public of Special Meetings of the Police and Fire Commission. According to the City's rules, a meeting can be called on 24 hours' notice, and then a Notice of the meeting is to be posted in a conspicuous place. I proposed that more notice be given, so that the public has a chance to learn of the meeting and attend.
City Manager Tim Clifton answered my questions. On May 6 the City Council temporarily increased the number of Sergeant positions.
On June 2 the Police and Fire Commission approved the promotion of Det. Cipolla to Sergeant.
As many in Woodstock are aware, Police Chief Bob Lowen is trying to fire Sgt. Steve Gorski. Sgt. Gorski was suspended without pay on August 29, 2007. At the February 4, 2008, Chief Lowen asked the Police and Fire Commission for authority to terminate Sgt. Gorski, but the three-man Commission voted 3-0 that Sgt. Gorski should be reinstated with full pay and interest on back pay. There is no public record of this meeting!
The City Council approved a "temporary" increase in the number of sergeant's positions on May 6. When the Department finally accepts the ruling of the Police and Fire Commission and reinstates Sgt. Gorski, what will happen to Det., now Sgt. Cipolla? Will he be demoted? Or will the temporary position be made "permanent"?
Instead of reinstating Sgt. Gorski, Chief Lowen is pursuing legal action and will ask Judge Maureen McIntyre on July 18 to decide whether the Police and Fire Commission wrongfully cleared Sgt. Gorski.
What is going to happen on July 18? Arguments will be made to Judge McIntyre, and then she'll take some time (probably) to deliberate before announcing her decision. Of course, it is always possible that she'll decide that the case is open-and-shut and make her decision on the spot. The three-man Commission was able to; perhaps she will be able to.
If not, she'll set a date for her decision, and everyone will traipse back to court to hear it. How long with that take? Another month or two without a paycheck for Sgt. Gorski? More interest to be paid for the City's delay in paying him? Certainly, more legals fees incurred by the City.
I was directed to avoid discussing "Mr. Gorski's" employment because it was a personnel issue and is in litigation. Continuing with my remarks about the operation of the Police and Fire Commission, I mentioned that we weren't talking about "Mr. Gorski", but rather Sgt.
Gorski. In my mind, that "slip" showed me the direction of the City, and I believe the City is going to find that it is going down the wrong road.
After the meeting I began to wonder when Chief Lowen got permission from the City Manager and the City Council to pursue this legal action and to expend City funds in doing so. Was this done in open session or in executive session? And who will pay for the legal defense of the three Commissioners, since they are named in the Chief's legal action, along with Sgt. Gorski? Is the City going to be paying for both ends of this legal action (except for Sgt. Gorski's portion)?
In thinking further about Government of the people, I question why the police chief is challenging the decision of the Police and Fire Commission - the "People". "The People" spoke on February 4. They said to reinstate Sgt. Gorski. Yet 4 1/2 months later, Sgt. Gorski remains on unpaid leave.
You tell me - if you went almost a year without pay, what financial shape would you be in?
Is there a win/win solution here?
© 2008 GUS PHILPOTT