Council hears more opposition to fire, police chief ordinance

Director of Administrative Services Jeff Mays discusses a proposed ordinance to change the hiring process for police and fire chiefs Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, at Quincy City Hall. The ordinance is set for consideration by the Quincy City Council next week.

QUINCY — Opposition to a proposed ordinance that would allow the mayor of Quincy to appoint and terminate police and fire chiefs continued Monday.

This included former Quincy Fire Chief Joe Henning, who stepped down earlier this year to take a teaching position at Western Illinois University. He served as chief for 12 years.

Read for a second time at Monday’s City Council meeting, the ordinance would remove chief appointment from the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners, which oversees hiring for the two departments, and the mayor would make the appointments with the advice and consent of the City Council.

Aldermen are expected to consider the ordinance next week.

Henning said the idea there isn’t accountability for chiefs from the mayor or council is false. He noted police and fire commissioners are appointed by the mayor with aldermen confirming them, as well as Fire and Police committees that aldermen are appointed to. The City Council also oversees the budget for the departments.

Fire and police commissioners established a citizen stakeholder group as part of the recent process to hire Chief Bernie Vahlkamp.

“I had some hesitation as to that as a fire chief, because we want to keep the separation of the mayor and the council and the commission, but it happened,” Henning said. “The mayor facilitated that process and had the ability to provide feedback to the commission, and honestly I think the process worked. We ended up with a quality fire chief who’s going to serve the city well.”

Quincy Fire Capt. Jerry Mast, president of Quincy Firefighters Local 63, told aldermen that the police and fire chiefs must be removed from politics as much as possible.

“A chief can not work truthfully or transparently for the public if he constantly fears termination, because what he tells the public may not fit the political agenda of the mayor or City Council,” Mast said.

Former mayor and police and fire commissioner John Spring also urged the council to reject the ordinance.

“This proposed amendment will destroy the confidence that the selection of these two department heads is done with impartiality and strictly based on who the best candidate is,” Spring said.

After public comment, Director of Administrative Service Jeff Mays argued that many cities in Illinois have the mayor appoint police and fire chiefs. He added the basis for appointment would be on “merit and fitness.”

“Our proposal exchanges the exclusive appointment-removal authority of the chiefs of fire and police departments from the commission and gives it ti the mayor with the advise and consent of the this council,” Mays said. “It only excludes that one position, which is the administrative head of two departments.”

In other business, aldermen accepted Quincy Regional Airport’s supplemental grant of $8.470 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation for Phase 2 of the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Runway 4/22.

The $35 million four-phase project involves reconstruction of the 7,100-foot-long runway, the removal of the airport’s third runway and parallel taxiway, and the reconstruction of an additional taxiway.

Mayor Mike Troup also presented keys to the city to the various social service agencies that assisted displaced residents of the Welcome Inn, which was shut down by the city in July because of structural issues.

Jenna Hull, of the United Way of Adams County, said 250 people were displaced when it was shut down.

“Most of those individuals had no advance notice,” Hull said. “They were given 24 hours to remove themselves, their pets and their belongings from the property. This meant sometimes putting their things in trash bags, leaving things behind and surrendering their pets.”

She said some residents remain displaced, and agencies are working to contact them over the next few months and work to improve their living situations.

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