A disagreeable odor surrounds the recent discussion about the future of Effingham Police Chief Jeff Fuesting. The talk is cloaked in a vagueness that is, nevertheless, charged with passion on both sides.
We don’t quite know what to make of it. But we wish more people would just come out and say what they mean. We hope for more open and honest discussion before any final decisions are made.
It all surfaced at a city council meeting in April, when outgoing Commissioner Kevin Esker said, “I think the public needs to know that our new mayor has his own private agenda to not reinstate our chief of police and I think that’s totally wrong.”
Esker and Mayor Jeff Bloemker failed to retain their seats in the April 2 election. Mayor-elect Mike Schutzbach, a former Effingham police chief, will be joined by commissioners-elect Libby Moeller, Larry Micenheimer and Henry “Hank” Stephens. Commissioner Merv Gillenwater is the only incumbent who will remain on the council. If Schutzbach wants to oust Fuesting, he hasn’t said so publicly.
“I neither can or can’t make an appointment until I’m in office,” Schutzbach cryptically told the Effingham Daily News.
Last week, a digital billboard along South Banker Street began displaying a message in support of Fuesting. The sign is owned by Encore Digitals, which said the ad was paid for by someone who wishes to remain anonymous.
“Support Chief Fuesting, May 7th 6 p.m., Show Up, City Council Meeting,” the sign says.
Then, officers and telecommunicators of the Effingham Police Department overwhelmingly passed a “no confidence” vote against Fuesting. A press release announcing the 25-1 vote said the action indicates, “the employees who serve under Fuesting feel he is no longer fit to hold the position.” The vote has no legal standing, but is a way to publicly indicate that relations between the police chief and his employees have reached the breaking point, the release said.
“The Effingham Police Department employees took this rare vote because they have serious integrity concerns pertaining to the chief,” FOP Labor Council Executive Director Shawn Roselieb said in the press release. “Our field staff and members of FOP Lodge 209 have repeatedly talked to Chief Fuesting about violating contractual provisions, unfair employee treatment, and hostile workplace incidents. Rather than try to improve employee relations, Fuesting has enlisted the support of several sympathetic city officials to try and put the blame elsewhere.”
Without specifics regarding how contracts were violated, or what constituted unfair employee treatment or a hostile workplace, it’s hard to judge the merits of the no confidence vote, which is a pretty safe way to gripe about your boss.
Outgoing Mayor Jeff Bloemker described Fuesting as a “tireless fighter” and called the anonymous vote nothing more than a “cheap parlor trick” used by unions.
To be clear, this newspaper has sometimes disagreed with Fuesting’s methods. We want public officials who understand that it’s our job – and theirs – to provide factual and detailed information to residents of the community about things that affect them. Law and order and public safety are somewhere near the top of the list.
We’ve found Fuesting less than forthright on that front at times. And at times, we’ve had to appeal to the state attorney general’s office his denial of public records we require to do our job. More often than not, the AG’s office ruled in our favor – only to have Fuesting deny the release of the next public record we requested.
Those disagreements aside – cops and reporters often clash over such things – we urge the incoming mayor and city council to hold public hearings about the direction of the Effingham Police Department. We’d like to hear from Fuesting – in a public setting – about what he has done to make this a safer community, and what he plans to do to make it even safer.
Certainly, an important part of that job is making sure that police officers and other department staff are enthusiastic about their crucial roles in protecting and serving. We’d also like to hear from them, and members of the community, about these things that affect us all.