SYRACUSE -- The appointment of a new police chief has been delayed following a lengthy disagreement Tuesday about whether resumes of prospective candidates legally should have been made available to all members of the city council before this week.
The council voted 3-2 to table a motion to appoint Garret Atkin, currently a Layton police lieutenant, as the new chief to replace Brian Wallace, who is retiring. The vote followed a sometimes pointed exchange among members of the council, Mayor Jamie Nagle and members of the city staff, including Wallace and Fire Chief Eric Froerer.
The council spent approximately 45 minutes on the issue during the work session, and the disagreement expressed in that setting spilled over into the council, where the matter was debated for almost 90 minutes before being tabled.
Council members Brian Duncan, Larry Shingleton and Karianne Lisonbee voted to table the matter, while Councilmen Brian Johnson and Doug Peterson voted against it. Both Johnson and Peterson were part of the panel that vetted candidates.
Most of the disagreement centered on interpretation of Government Records Access and Management Act rules about making private records public. GRAMA deals with management of government records and who has access to records and how the law is enforced.
Lisonbee, Duncan and Shingleton wanted to review resumes, even though they were not part of the search committee, and they were denied access until Tuesday. The trio tried to call a special meeting three weeks ago, but Nagle was unavailable until the night of the meeting. Lisonbee filed a GRAMA request to see the resumes and was denied until just before noon Tuesday, when the mayor granted access.
The issue also spilled over into potential access to resumes for the public. Resident Troy Shingleton, son of the councilman, filed two separate GRAMA requests to see information about the candidates, but was denied until Tuesday, when the resumes of the three finalists were made available.
Atkin and his wife and the entire police force attended the meeting.
The prospective chief did not take the tabling action as a snub.
"I'm proud to be the nominee. I don't take this as a personal measure against me. Clearly there are differences of opinion that won't be settled. I am extremely interested in leading this department for years to come," Atkin said.
Unless a special meeting is called, the matter is likely to come up for review again at the council's scheduled Nov. 27 meeting.
Larry Shingleton said he was satisfied getting access to the resumes on Tuesday and was ready to vote, but Lisonbee said she needed more time to review the resumes and process to fulfill her statutory duty.
Duncan was as concerned about Troy Shingleton and other residents getting access to the records before a decision was made, as he was about his own review. He stressed the need for a trust-and-verify approach to government decisions.
The discussion took on a soap opera-style atmosphere at times as the sides went back and forth over specific details of GRAMA, who said what and when, and who was blocking whom.
The wife of a police officer also went to the podium to offer comment during the verbal sparring session, but was denied the right to speak, because the citizen comment section of the meeting had passed.
Nagle assembled a review panel to oversee the hiring process that included Layton Police Chief Terry Keefe and Bountiful Police Chief Tom Ross, as well as council members Johnson and Peterson, City Manager Robert Rice and Wallace, who was part of the initial process but did not take part in the interviews.
Wallace is scheduled to retire Dec. 24, and both he and Froerer urged the council to act on the matter Tuesday to help ensure a smooth transition.
"This has nothing to do with hiring a police chief," Wallace told council members.
He said the same process has been used for the 20 years he has worked for the city. He wondered why council members couldn't trust the recommendation of Johnson and Peterson and the review panel.
"Because of the conflict between you three and the mayor, this is going to be dragged on. You'll arrive at the same place a month from now," he said.
Froerer urged the council to act so that Atkin, if he is chosen as chief, could have some time to transition with Wallace.
"I'm sad and disappointed in what I am seeing and hearing tonight. You're on the same road now as you were back then (when Froerer was appointed). I am sorry you three have so little faith in those two who sat on the interview panel. How about a good news story in the paper about Syracuse city for once, instead of the constant negativity," Froerer said.
Johnson said the core of the issue goes beyond the resumes.
"I think there's a trust issue," he said. "Some people don't trust the mayor, some people don't trust the council."
He said the process was fair, but the latest incident could have been avoided if resumes had been made available for council review three weeks ago.