New showdown in Syracuse, this time over hiring of police chief

Oct 31 2012 - 5:35am

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Jamie Nagle sits in her office at her home in 2009 after being elected mayor of Syracuse. (Standard-Examiner file photo)
Syracuse City Councilwoman Karianne Lisonbee (Courtesy photo)
Jamie Nagle sits in her office at her home in 2009 after being elected mayor of Syracuse. (Standard-Examiner file photo)
Syracuse City Councilwoman Karianne Lisonbee (Courtesy photo)

SYRACUSE -- The process of hiring a new police chief in this community appears to be creating a political firestorm along familiar lines.

The storm appears to be another showdown between Mayor Jamie Nagle and several city council members, notably Karianne Lisonbee and Brian Duncan.

The two sides clashed earlier this year when the council went about the process of hiring a new fire chief.

Lisonbee, Duncan and Councilman Larry Shingleton want to review potential candidates for the police chief's job, but the process may not give them that chance until it's time to vote on Chief Brian Wallace's replacement.

The council members have petitioned a special meeting this week but have been unable to find a time when Nagle is available to attend.

The council's next regularly scheduled meeting is Nov. 13.

In the meantime, Nagle has assembled an interview panel to consider candidates to replace Wallace, who is set to retire in December.

The group includes two Davis County police chiefs; City Manager Robert Rice; council members Craig Johnson and Doug Peterson; and the mayor.

Nagle said the city's Human Resources director prescreened the resumes and compiled a top 10 list for the group to consider.

Rice said the committee interviewed eight candidates on that list last week, as the other two dropped out.

Nagle described the candidates as "phenomenal."

Rice estimated 20 to 25 applicants for the job.

He said the panel has gone above and beyond what is required in city code in vetting candidates and hopes the process will move forward so a potential chief can be voted on at the next regular council meeting.

Nagle intends to eventually take the recommendation of the group and present it for final council approval.

She said efforts by council members to screen candidates are an attempt by four council members to get new candidates added to the list.

She said she is not allowed under city code or the Government Records Access and Management Act to provide access to all of the records for the applicants.

Nagle compared the efforts to gain access to the records to a power grab and worried it would lead to a fiasco similar to what occurred earlier this year, when the council stalled attempts to hire a fire chief.

Duncan, an attorney, said he has no interest in a power grab but that using GRAMA to keep the council away is a misread of the law.

GRAMA is a law dealing with management of government records. It states who has access to records and how the law is enforced.

"She (Nagle) claims that, under GRAMA, we have no right to the records we are requesting. I have talked to other city attorneys and reviewed the statute myself, and it appears that our city attorney and the mayor are the only ones that think GRAMA applies," Duncan said.

"I am not trying to appoint the city police chief but only wish to be informed as much as possible as I go into the advice and consent process.

"We are asking to review the candidates' resumes. What is the harm? Is she hiding something? I do not see how asking to review the resumes is a grab for power," Duncan said.

"I am not asking for my candidate -- I do not have one -- to be appointed. I am asking the mayor to explain and justify her choice in light of possible other candidates. A well-reasoned and properly chosen candidate will not be opposed by me."

He said he has no candidate in mind.

Lisonbee said she is trying to do her duty as a council member in reviewing potential candidates. She described a comparison of the police chief hiring process to that of a fire chief to do further research as a straw man, or a fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent's position.

"This is about following our city code, since the GRAMA law does preclude members of the governing body from viewing documents in order to fulfill their statutory duties. It is clear in our code that the mayor appoints with the advice and consent of the council," she said.

"The council is meant to be a check. I don't have a candidate in mind. I simply want to be informed in order to properly fulfill my statutory duty."

Without a special meeting or access, Lisonbee said, the majority of the advising body for the city will not be able to be informed on Nov. 13, when the council meets again and could potentially vote on the matter.

Nagle finds it ironic that some people have a problem with the process, because she said she has gone to great lengths to ensure fair practices are in place, even consulting with other mayors about their hiring processes.

The mayor said the dispute and issue with legality goes beyond the current issue.

She said some council members are participating in illegal meetings, when they assemble in the parking lot to continue discussions after city meetings, as a quorum.

Duncan fired back at that assertion, saying that, after the latest meeting, he was in the parking lot talking with some residents and two council members about a recent regional conference featuring an apostle from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"The mayor came out and rudely interrupted our discussion by pressing the issues of a quorum. I informed her we were not discussing city business. She refused to accept that and again asserted that we were violating the law," Duncan said.

"She has no basis for claiming a violation, or she would have called the prosecutor by now. It is ironic that she sent an email (on Oct. 24) to the entire city council about city business in violation of the very law she wants to accuse the council of violating."

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