I am writing this in response to Don Stratton’s recent column, “A bad idea that just won’t die”.
Strong safety service agencies are vital for a strong community, and the recent emergence of fiscal constraints and new technology have made the management of these agencies increasingly complex. The Lima Police Department (LPD) and Lima Fire Department (LFD) employ nearly half of the city’s workforce and account for more than half of the city’s general fund expenditures. It is imperative we have the best people running the Lima Police Department (LPD) and Lima Fire Department (LFD) – even if that means hiring candidates “from the outside” to lead these departments as is customary in numerous other cities across Ohio.
This is not meant to be an indictment of our current police and fire chiefs; quite the contrary, in fact. I have the utmost respect for the job that Chief Martin and Chief Black are doing and hope they are both able to continue leading their respective departments for the foreseeable future. But council also has a responsibility to our constituents to help plan for the long-term growth and success of Lima.
Under current promotional rules, the candidate pool for an open chief position is limited to the three majors (LPD) or two deputy chiefs (LFD). If one LFD deputy chief is close to retirement or does not wish to serve as chief, the current system essentially awards an automatic appointment of the other deputy chief to the position. This is not about politics to me. I just feel restricting the job search for such important positions to two or three candidates runs contrary to the best interests of Lima residents.
I am not suggesting that we require going outside to fill an opening, simply that we allow the flexibility to do so.
Mr. Stratton, however, supports this restriction, writing “that the head of the local law enforcement agency needs knowledge of the community that can only be gained from living here — knowledge of its residents, its culture, its problems, its good points, it’s bad points, its history, and a lot of other factors that make the city what it is, good or bad.” But I ask, are these not things the Allen County Sheriff would already know? Because he, too, is currently ineligible to apply for Chief of LPD. Is it Mr. Stratton’s assertion that the current fire chiefs for Bath and/or Shawnee Townships are equally unqualified to serve as the next chief of the Lima Fire Department?
I believe the city would be lucky for any of these three public servants to be considered in the event either position is open in Lima.
Mr. Stratton also wrote, “… Lima cannot pay the salary required to attract an outsider with qualifications equal to or better than local candidates. A good example of this is a major from the LPD who took the chief’s job in another city.”
This is wild conjecture. The salary is listed on the job posting and presumably only those willing to accept said compensation would even apply. And by Mr. Stratton’s own logic, is it also his opinion that Mr. Protsman (the major he references) is unqualified for his current position as Chief of Kettering Police– a city with 20,000 more people than Lima – due to his lack of community knowledge? I would also note that the current system precluded the City of Lima from even interviewing Mr. Protsman for the Chief position when Chief Garlock retired. So it not only restricts the city from hiring the best external candidate(s), but potentially the best internal one(s).
This is not a new issue.
Two councilors referred this issue to the Charter Review Commission in 2011. In a Lima News editorial from Oct. 28, 2011, “the six candidates in contested Lima City Council races all support opening up the police and fire chief positions to outside candidates… including the incumbent council president… Everyone seems to agree Lima would benefit from this change….”
At that time, it was determined the best approach was to address it during the pending Civil Service Rules update. Unfortunately, as Councilors came on and off City Council and committee assignments changed, the discussion was lost in the shuffle. It is time for Council to do what we told voters we were going to do and restart this dialogue.
As for Mr. Stratton’s personal shot at me, I will just say this: I fully support open elections, just as I do open hiring processes. I encourage him (and everyone!) to move into the 4th Ward, pay municipal income tax, and challenge me for this seat. I welcome any opportunity for dialogue.
Rebecca Kreher represents the 4th Ward on Lima City Council.