Council delays vote on police, fire chief ordinance

Quincy Fire Chief Bernie Vahlkamp swears in Firefighter Tillitt Pratt Monday, Sept. 20, 2021, at Quincy City Hall. The city council decided during its regular meeting to table an ordinance giving the mayor the authority to appoint police and fire chiefs.

QUINCY — The Quincy City Council on Monday tabled a proposed ordinance that would give the mayor the authority to appoint the city’s police and fire chiefs.

After receiving heavy opposition to the measure over during the last two weeks, the council won’t consider the ordinance until Oct. 4.

Mayor Mike Troup had to cast the tiebreaking vote to table the ordinance after aldermen were divided 7-7. Aldermen Eric Entrup, R-1; Dave Bauer, D-2; Kelly Mays, R-3; Parker Freiburg, R-3; Richie Reis, D-6; Katie Awerkamp, D-6 and Ben Uzelac, D-7 voted against tabling the ordinance.

Troup said that with all of the discussion over the past few weeks, he felt there were things that could be easily amended to satisfy the concerns of the public.

“Some people thought that under this proposal, the mayor would just pick a friend to become chief and that was never my intention nor the council’s intention,” Troup said. “There’s minimum requirements for those positions and so we’re looking at the steps that we would have to go through when this gets approved and then any other mayor or alderman group would have to do down the future as well.”

The ordinance was introduced during the Sept. 6 council meeting, which was about two months after the appointment of Quincy Fire Chief Bernie Vahlkamp.

However, Quincy Police Chief Rob Copley and the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners, who currently oversee police and fire chief appointments, said they received no prior notice of the measure coming before council.

Under the proposed ordinance, the mayor, with the advice and consent of the council, would make any appointments or terminations. Instead of the standard three years, terms would be set by the mayor and are not to exceed the length of the term of a mayor holding office at the time of appointment.

In a statement to the council, the police and fire commissioners asked who would administer a new hiring process since it would no longer be in the hands of commissioners. The statement continued that it was “baseless” to suggest that the commission has been anything but transparent and impartial in its hiring practices.

In a separate statement dated Monday, commissioner Barry Cheyne maintained that the commission was the best suited entity to make appointments or take disciplinary measures.

“Since this proposed ordinance was presented on September 7, 2021, there has been no explanation about how the Mayor’s appointment of the department chiefs would be improved, other than saying, the selection would be based on merit and fitness, which of course is the criteria we have always adhered to,” Cheyne said. “Along with the unknown costs associated with outside personnel and legal counsel, there would certainly be additional costs involved.”

Troup and Director of Administrative Services Jeff Mays had argued that many communities in Illinois grant the mayor the authority to appoint police and fire chiefs and that appointments would be based on merit and fitness.

Opponents of the ordinance feared that taking this duty away from the commission would no longer make the selection of chiefs an impartial process. The commission, in particular, believed that the arrangement would give the appearance of politicizing the city’s emergency response capabilities.

The council also heard first reading of an ordinance establishing a registration process for residential rental property owners in Quincy.

Janet Conover, a member of the city’s special registration committee and a member of Quincy’s Safe and Liveable Housing Committee, said that although some elements that added strength to the ordinance were removed throughout the committee’s five public meetings, the ordinance still has many good points that will benefit the community.

“The mayor’s committee was an outstanding example of how a community can work together to solve problems,” Conover said. “And I encourage you to take its recommendation, recognize the value of compromise and approve this ordinance.”

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