By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Monticello’s village board is expected to ask for public input this Tuesday on a proposal to create a police commission.
The board has been mulling a three-member commission composed of the mayor, a board member and a village resident. According to the resolution, they would be tasked with overseeing the village’s police department and recommending changes for the board to implement.
Both Mayor Gordon Jenkins and Village Manager John LiGreci said the impetus for the commission sprang from complaints about the department.
“I’ve been getting a tremendous amount of complaints about gang problems in the village,” Jenkins explained. “... People are afraid here.”
“There’s a concern about some of the complaints ... that they [police] are abusing their powers,” added LiGreci, though he acknowledged that many of the complaints come from people simply unhappy that they or a loved one was arrested or locked up.
Both men said a commission would help them resolve those complaints, legitimate or otherwise.
“It will give the board and mayor a little more insight into what’s going on in the community,” Jenkins said. “... The way it is now, there’s no one that can question anything.”
Currently only the police chief is empowered to follow up on complaints, said LiGreci.
“It leaves a little gray area,” he remarked. “In my opinion, there needs to be better checks and balances.”
Both LiGreci and Jenkins said the commission isn’t meant as a slight against Police Chief Doug Solomon.
“They’re not looking to circumvent the authority of the police department,” said LiGreci.
“I’m not looking to take over any department,” affirmed Jenkins.
When contacted Wednesday, Solomon said he had yet to see a draft of the proposal.
“If it would be helpful for there to be an independent body to look at them [the complaints], I’m not opposed to it,” Solomon related. “I’m just not sure a police commission is the way to go.”
The draft as currently written gives broad powers to the three-member commission, of which Jenkins would be chair for as long as he is mayor.
Meeting in public at least six times a year, the commission would formulate policy, promulgate rules, find efficiencies, submit financial reports, keep up to date on modernization methods, and seek state and federal funding on the department’s behalf, while also promoting cooperation between the village police and other agencies, especially the State Police, to eliminate duplication of services.
A prior draft seemed to indicate the commission would have hiring and firing powers over every police dept. employee, but LiGreci said that had been amended, so that the village manager retains such control (per current practice).
Still, the proposed law gives particular powers to the chair of the commission, who is responsible for overseeing “best practices” implementation pertaining to the department’s day-to-day activities.
According to the resolution, that includes “planning and organizing the activities of the department, scheduling and assigning work, and supervising the work of the sworn police officers and civilian staff.”
“The chairman of the Board of Police Commissioners,” it adds, “shall hold the title ‘Police Commissioner’ in addition to the title of Chairperson of the Police Commission.”
Also as chair, the mayor has the authority to appoint the two other members, subject to the village board’s approval.
And there’s a provision for the chair to be paid. No specific salary is set, and the other two members would serve on a volunteer basis.
Jenkins said such compensation would not be “a huge salary” and that he might not collect any pay at all, though he’s leaving it open due to the potential time-consuming duties of the office.
He hoped, in fact, the commission will help save the village money.
At the very least, Jenkins said, the commission will give the board some “leverage” to ensure responsiveness from the police department.
“I’ve been asking for [more street] patrols since I became mayor, and I don’t get it,” he gave as an example.
Jenkins promised to not abuse the power that comes with the position.
“It’s not just all ‘my way,’” he explained. “It’s for the health and safety of the village. I don’t have a personal agenda.”
He believes it will help him better respond to the 100+ calls he gets every year about the police department.
“I want to have answers for the people, that’s all,” Jenkins said.
Trustee Carmen Rue, on the other hand, feels the current proposal would make Jenkins or his successor the de facto police chief for which there is no provision in the current union contract.
“The reason I’m not comfortable with this law is the police have a contract,” she said yesterday. “It doesn’t mention in the contract that the police are supervised by a commission.”
LiGreci explained that Tuesday’s public hearing part of the regular board meeting that begins at 7 p.m. at the village hall is simply designed to gain information and comments from village residents. He does not expect the law to be enacted that evening.
“It’s far from a vote,” LiGreci said. “The board wants input from the public to see if this is the way they should go.”