Advisory Board: Police job transfer recommendations should be in bylaws

Friday, March 27, 2009

Lewisburg's Police Advisory Board has come to the conclusion that its bylaws should mention transfers of police assignments, an issue the board deliberated for a week between two meetings that began with a grievance.

Lateral transfers are not mentioned in the Advisory Board's bylaws, so the board faced a technical dilemma when Detective Santiago Mcklean's grievance was heard. He contended that Chief Chuck Forbis' decision to assign him to uniform patrol was a demotion. Forbis said that without a cut in pay, it's a transfer.

Now, because of board deliberations on this week, City Manager Eddie Fuller has acknowledged advice for changing Board bylaws and says he will have the issue on the agenda for the City Council meeting set for April 14.

So, as the oversight is scheduled for correction, two members of the Board have said they might have resigned over circumstances surrounding the grievance, and more discussion is anticipated on the board's powers and police personnel matters.

Other discussion revealed some members of the Board felt misinformed on whether Forbis had consulted with, or advised the board of personnel changes including new hires. And a detective sergeant who sought a transfer to uniform patrol recently, became, by default, a point in the discussion. Mcklean didn't want such a transfer after he learned he'd been the subject of a memo alleging a language barrier. Before that, he was apparently willing to go on uniform patrol. Nevertheless, and under different circumstances, Officer Dac Barrow requested a transfer from being a plainclothes detective sergeant to being a uniformed officer.

The board's decision to grant Mcklean's request that he remain a detective was disturbing, according to former Police Chief Wayne Coombs who serves on the Board because he'd been a chief here. Coombs came close to resigning from the Board, he said.

Reviewing the decision made about two weeks ago, was just one part of the Board's discussion on Monday. It started on the panel's bylaws.

"We need to put some definitions down for some things this Board does, as far as positions at the Police Department," Chairwoman Lina Horner said, "One is transfers -- lateral transfers.

"We all know what demotion and promotion are, but we need to clarify things ... so we know what we are supposed to do," Horner said.

Transfers come without pay changes, according to the chief, but he, Fuller and others acknowledge there's a general public per perception that police officers are promoted when they become detectives.

Mcklean made the point during his grievance hearing, when he also complained he'd not received training as had other officers.

Coombs contended the Board acted without sufficient information and he wanted others to testify for the grievance hearing. Forbis had spoken against that. It might hurt staff moral. Forbis advocated advise to the city manager that would substantiate his decision that Mcklean needed more on the job training.

Horner seems to agree on at least one point: "There were facts there that were unintentionally misrepresented," and some police remain "uncomfortable" about the situation.

Coombs then praised Mcklean's integrity, but agreed with Forbis that the detective needs more experience with police work and people.

"If he goes out on patrol, he will get experience," Coombs said, again endorsing Forbis' original plan. "I would hate to see that young man get shot one night" during night patrol.

While the board revisited such issues that had been decided nearly two weeks earlier, it did not change its recommendation issued March 12. Mcklean stays a detective and during at least six months, he gets additional training and is subject to review.

Horner conceded mistakes had been made, but she expressed faith in the chief's ability to lead the department.

"We need to be more diligent about putting things in people's file," she said in an apparent reference to Mcklean's complaint that the letter Detective Sgt. Jimmy Oliver wrote about Mcklean's alleged language barrier was not available to the detective before or during a conference when he was told to be ready to go into the patrol division.

Councilman Robin Minor, the liaison to the Police Advisory Board, said that because procedures weren't followed in the Mcklean case, he wanted to resign from the Board.

Seven responsibilities were set out in the Police Board bylaws, Minor said.

They include consultation by the chief and city manager on hiring, firing, reprimand, promotion, demotion and recommending someone to be police chief.

"Why don't we send this back to the Council," Coombs asked, "and ask them to redefine some things?"

"We should do it," Horner concluded Monday evening.

On Wednesday, Fuller said, "It is the council's job more than the board (to change the Board's bylaws). What the council passed in Dec. of 2007 needs to be changed by adding 'transfers' after assigning the responsibility over hiring and firing and promotion and demotion.

"In the beginning (when the advisory board was created) we didn't ... address transfers so the Council will make that adjustment to make sure it's covered.

"Maybe we haven't done every detail, but the chief did run new hires by the board," Fuller said.

And that night, Forbis told the board he had candidates for an open corporal's position. The board heard descriptions of the chief's top candidates and recommended that Officer Jackie Robertson be promoted to corporal. The city manager was aware of the recommendation immediately and as he has in the past, Fuller accepted the advice and promoted Robertson.