Friday, March 07, 2008

Santiago elimination - Courier - Council abolishes position

Published in the Courier, Thursday, March 06, 2008

[Removal of Chief Santiago - Ordinance - 1st Reading; Officers detailed]
Latin-American group backs Plainfield chief


PLAINFIELD — As City Council members moved forward Wednesday night with plans to abolish the position of police chief and create the title of civilian police director, the head of the city's Latin American Coalition and others continued to denounce the proposal as a personal vendetta.

Shortly before the City Council session — where council members passed the companion ordinances on first reading — Flor Gonzalez, president of the Latin American Coalition, called for a brief rally in support of Chief Edward Santiago, who faces retirement or demotion to captain next month under the pending laws. The ordinances still require another reading and a public hearing, which will be held March 19, before they are formally adopted.

Gonzalez, who has defended Santiago throughout his embattled tenure as chief, gathered with a dozen members of Plainfield's Hispanic community to wave signs in English and Spanish that signaled their support.

One poster was covered with photographs of Lazaro Tista, a Guatemalan immigrant whom authorities have said was beaten to death last year by three Plainfield men because he was Hispanic. Gonzalez credited the chief and city police for quickly capturing the suspects.

"He's a great asset for the city of Plainfield because he works for our needs," added Pedro Santana, co-owner of Caribe Cab Taxi Corp.

Gonzalez, as she has in public meetings, repeatedly questioned the council's motivation for abolishing the position and claimed the move has no justification. But city officials have countered that hiring a civilian director will add a level of performance accountability to the Police Division.

Under the city's proposed ordinances, a candidate for police director with at least five years of experience in public administration or law enforcement would be appointed by the mayor with City Council consent.

The director, who would serve at the mayor's pleasure, would report to city leaders and the public safety director. The proposed ordinance creating the title also allows the public safety director to hold both positions. Public Safety Director Martin Hellwig has not indicated if he would accept the additional responsibility if asked.

Also included in the ordinance is a provision giving the sitting mayor power to hear and determine any charges filed against a member of the city's police or fire divisions.

Hellwig's pending police reorganization plan, which includes abolishing the chief's position, would expand the responsibilities of the city's five captains and create a sixth bureau for information technology. The administrative duties held by Santiago would be transferred to the police director while his police-related functions would be absorbed by bureau commanders, which could include Santiago if he accepts a demotion.

The proposed ordinance creating the director's position also allows for a significant expansion of the 151-member force. Under the pending law, the Police Division could expand to include up to eight captains, 24 lieutenants, 50 sergeants and 250 patrolman. Though Hellwig and city Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson said the provision will give police leaders future hiring flexibility, some council members have questioned if the numbers are necessary to include.

Online story here. Archived here.

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Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.