By Shane Nicholson
Mayor Larry Morrissey is stepping up his push to put the hiring and firing power of Rockford’s fire and police chiefs back in the hands of the City Council.
Morrissey mentioned the proposed policy shift during the retirement press conference for outgoing Police Chief Chet Epperson last week. Tuesday he confirmed that the proposal had been moved through to committee.
“Council should be managing the police and fire departments in a manner similar to how we manage the rest of the organization,” Morrissey told the Times.
“It’s a practice consistent with how other cities across the state do it–to have the mayor and city council ultimately involved in the hiring and discipline procedures of those offices.”
Currently, the fire and police chiefs fall under the order of the Board of Fire and Police commissioners. The council and the mayor’s office may provide input to the commission on its duties – such as the current search for an interim and permanent police chief – but the final power rests in the hands of the three-person commission.
Two seats on the board are set to be replaced, with Chairwoman LoRayne Logan and Henrietta Dotson-Williams on their way out. Morrissey put forth Don Williams of the Rock River Valley Tooling and Machining Association as the replacement for Logan’s seat. No candidate for the other seat has been proposed.
Morrissey says that, given changes underway in the board, now is the ideal time to move forward and bring Rockford’s practices in line with other cities across the state.
“I’m comfortable having the council reflect on this given the current situation. I think it’s an opportune time to do so,” Morrissey said.
“When we looked at some of the other departments throughout the state we saw that this was one area where we were behind. We may be the only city in the state doing it this old way.
“After the chiefs are hired, they report on a daily basis to the city administrator and the mayor. Those are the things we have to consider as we move forward.”
Critics say that the current system has functioned well for decades, and that a shift to allowing the mayor and council final say on these decisions puts too much power in the hands of the city’s executive over the already ongoing process to replace Epperson, set to retire Nov. 13.
But Morrissey says that now is the time to make a change he feels is long overdue.
“We have to be conscious of the timing, but we don’t want to take forever on this.”