Last updated: August 24. 2013 4:23AM - 29 Views

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The final layers of dust are about to be knocked off the Lima City Charter. The Lima Charter Review Commission in March will put before voters the final in a three-year series of changes to Lima's blueprint for government.We were hoping for one more important change: expanding the pool of applicants when the top job in either the Lima Police Department or the Lima Fire Department comes open. Now is the time for that change. No one automatically should expect to be the next in line in either department. So let's ensure that Lima is able to attract the best possible candidates, wherever they may now be, when the next opening comes.Lima Law Director Tony Geiger and Charter Review Commission Chairman Zach Broshes say their group has cleared the way for an expanded pool, if city officials want one. City Council and civil service board members should make the necessary changes now.The Charter used to have a section that said the positions of fire and police chief had to be filled according to state law, which requires both positions to be filled from within, Geiger said. For example, under state law, only the current police majors can take the civil service exam to be police chief. When then-Chief Greg Garlock's pending retirement become public in late 2010, only Majs. Kevin Martin, Dick Shade and Tony Swygart were eligible to take the chief's test. Martin and Swygart did, and Martin edged out Swygart to become Lima's next police chief.Voters repealed that section of the Charter as part of the overall civil service revisions. The Charter now says the civil service board can make the rules, which would include how the chiefs are chosen, and City Council then decides whether to approve them. But neither the civil service board nor City Council has made any such rules yet, so hiring of the chiefs still would be done according to state law, Geiger said.Now is the time for members of City Council and the civil service board to act. Martin and Fire Chief Mark Hefner are relatively young and relatively new. No one under them should be eyeing the top jobs just yet. Therefore, there is no political risk right now in expanding the pool of applicants. If such a decision is left to a future civil service board and future City Council, the next-in-line at the relevant department is going to feel slighted. The applicant pool should be as broad as possible. Lima taxpayers would benefit from more competition for the top jobs, people who bring new ideas, attitudes and experiences to the interview process, if not the job. There's no reason to think an internal candidate wouldn't be the pick, but the person running a city department should beat out the best applicants possible to get the job.Multiple ways exist to choose a new chief now that the city can, Geiger said. Council members could say outside candidates can take the civil service test, requiring no further Charter change. But councilors also could decide to take the chiefs completely out of civil service, making them appointees with no civil service protection (like other administrators), Geiger said. They could be hired with an employment contract for a definite term or they could be elected.Each of those methods comes with advantages and disadvantages. Now is the time to begin talking about which one is the best path forward.

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