Jul 25, 2014

Aldermen Sharply Criticize Police Chief Search Process

Three vote against appointing Ernest Brown as Darien's next police chief after they said they were denied input in the process.

Aldermen Sharply Criticize Police Chief Search Process

Three aldermen denounced the process the city used to select as during Monday's .

At the in June, Alderman Joerg Seifert said the aldermen were told that they would have the opportunity to interview the city’s top three candidates.

But that didn’t happen.

“It was basically placed on our laps that this would be the chief of police,” he said.

The alderman had the opportunity to interview only Brown, Seifert said. Brown is currently deputy superintendent of the Chicago Police Department’s patrol division.

Aldermen Sylvia McIvor and Joe Marchese joined Seifert in voting against Brown’s appointment because of the way the city conducted the search.

More than 140 people applied for the position, left vacant after after nine years heading the department.

A reviewed the resumes and helped whittle the applicants down to 10 who were brought in for interviews. Mayor Kathleen Weaver and City Administrator Bryon Vana, with the aid of three committee members, conducted those interviews.

After she and Vana interviewed the final three candidates, Weaver said she was sure of her decision.

“I did not want to muddy the waters introducing two more candidates (to the aldermen) that I would not be comfortable having as my police chief,” Weaver said.

Weaver said she went out of her way to include the alderman in the search by initially saying they could meet the final three candidates. The Darien City Code says that the mayor has full authority to appoint a police chief “with the advice and consent of the city council.”

The aldermen did have an opportunity to review the final three candidates’ resumes, she said.

Originally Weaver thought she would have a hard time making a decision and would need the council’s support, she said.

“You said we ‘were’ going to be involved, not ‘if’ you had a hard time deciding,” Seifert responded.

Marchese said he was disappointed that he couldn’t honestly say Brown was the best candidate since he didn’t have a chance to meet the other two finalists.

For several months he has told constituents that the aldermen would be involved in the selection process, he said.

“I have credibility with the people who support me,” Marchese said. “I have to be able to tell them the process is transparent, that I had some input into that process. And I did tell them that. And I didn’t have that input.”

Brown did an outstanding job representing himself at the meeting and has excellent credentials, Marchese said.

“The problem is with the process,” he said.

McIvor said the words “advice and consent of the council” were what concerned her.

“Yes, you (Weaver) do have the ability to appoint, but I think the council is an integral part of that process and we are basically the communication channel to the residents who voted us into these positions,” she said.

While Brown’s record is impressive, McIvor said she also had concerns about whether three decades of service with the Chicago Police Department were a good match for the City of Darien’s needs.

Citizen committee member John Gonczy defended the city’s search process as thorough and fair.

He said that Weaver questioned the prudence of bringing three people for the council’s review when she was set on Brown.

Neither of the two current deputy chiefs — John Cooper and David Skala — made it into the top 10 candidates based on the rating system the committee developed, Gonczy said. Nonetheless, the city invited them to interview.

“Those of us who sat in that room agreed that (Brown) is a very good choice,” Gonczy said. “None of us objected to her choosing Mr. Brown.”

Alderman Halil Avci said that while it would have been ideal to meet the top three candidates, the question on Monday was whether Brown was qualified.

“Look at this resume and credentials and there is no doubt about his qualifications,” he said.

After the council approved Brown’s appointment by a 4-3 vote, JoAnne Ragona swore him in as police chief. Aldermen Avci, Tina Beilke, John Poteraske and Ted Schauer voted to install Brown.

Vana said on Sunday that Brown would officially assume his duties in Darien within 30-60 days.

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