St. Charles vs. The Sergeants
By Rich Trzupek
Special Analysis and Commentary
In any hearing or trial, one of the key aspects of each witnesses' testimony is the famous question: "what did you know and when did you know it?" In the case of St. Charles Police Chief James Lamkin, and the City's argument that sergeants are full-blown supervisors, the answer appears to be "not much".
Sergeants are supervisors, Lamkin is sure, based on his testimony before the Illinois Labor Relations Board (ILRB) last fall, under questioning by the City's attorney, Susan Love. But, under cross examination by the sergeant's attorney, Joseph Mazzone, Lamkin seemed to develop a severe case of amnesia. One can only speculate how long it took him to remember where his car was parked once the hearing concluded.
Consider a few of the details of his department that the Chief just can't seem to get his arms around:
Sergeants write reprimands, Lamkin asserts, but has no idea how many, by whom and whether or not the commanders who supervise the sergeants are involved in the process.
Can sergeants require officers who are not performing up to snuff to participate in performance improvement plans, or are supervisors above them involved in the process? Lamkin doesn't know.
Can sergeants authorize travel involving an overnight stay? "It may be okay," Lamkin says. "It may not," shedding very little light -- let's be honest -- no light, on the subject.
Lamkin goes on to say that there is a financial criteria that would determine whether a sergeant can authorize travel or not. Not surprisingly, the Chief isn't sure what that criteria is, but "guesstimates" that it's over $500.
Mazzone asks the Chief if an investigative sergeant could authorize travel, if the costs were less than $500. The Chief confirms that this is so. Has investigative sergeant Steve Huffman ever authorized travel? The Chief doesn't know. More to the point he doesn't keep track of that, he says. (But why keep track, when you've got a photographic memory?)
Does Lamkin know whether or not commanders are made aware of these supposed travel authorizations? "Only from an assumption standpoint," the Chief replies. Whether he is assuming they were aware, or whether he is assuming they are not aware, is not clear.
At another point in his testimony, Lamkin finds himself twisted in knots by Mazzone on the issue of staffing levels. Love had previously tried to make a case that sergeants could authorize virtually any staffing level they wanted, without any approval up the chain of command. Mazzone challenged this remarkable notion in the following exchange with the Chief:
MAZZONE: So when the sergeants, when you were asked in redirect examinations about using the discretion of staff, those sergeants really do need to staff within the requirements of your directive?
LAMKIN: But they have the ability to deviate, yes.
MAZZONE: And if they deviate from this directive, do they need permission to do so?
MAZZONE: There's an order that says they need permission to deviate from the directives. Does that order not apply to sergeants?
LAMKIN: I believe Commander Kintz has given them authorization to deviate from staffing levels though.
MAZZZONE: So they have permission to deviate?
It would not be fair to single out the Chief for providing evasive, contradictory testimony. Readers who have followed this series have seen the save sort of evasiveness and contradictions in the testimony of Commander David Kintz and Human Resources Director Kathy Livernois, the city's other star witnesses.
Reading the transcript, it appears that the St. Charles went into full scramble mode after sergeants decided to file for the right to form a collective bargaining unit. Personal policies and manuals were changed to make sergeants appear more "supervisory –ish". This could be a coincidence, of course, but the evidence and testimony failed to compel the Illinois Labor Relations Board, or this correspondent, that these changes were a case of remarkably-timed happenstance.
The nature of Lamkin's, Livernois' and Kintz's testimony suggests that they spent a good deal of time with Attorney Love beforehand. There is nothing illegal or unethical about that, or course. But when it comes to the themes that run through all of three of their testimonies -- that sergeants have and have always had supervisory duties; that very little is documented to demonstrate this is so; that commanders, and indeed the very Chief himself, exercise hardly any control over sergeant's "broad supervisory functions" -- there is harmony between their stories that strains credulity.
But, if Lamkin, Livernois and Kintz feel some embarrassment for having their testimony splashed across the pages of this publication – and one suspects they do -- they should not be half as embarrassed as the person who set them up to be fall guys: City Administrator Brian Townsend.
This reporter's regular beat encompasses northwest Cook County. Among many respected sources in that area, Townsend's work when he was on the staff of the Village of Schaumburg is judged to be somewhat less than stellar. "Less than stellar" would be a mild description in this case. The performance of his staff, the strategic direction that Attorney Love has taken, and the tens of thousands of taxpayer's dollars wasted in this case should ultimately lie on his shoulders.
By the same token, Mayor Don DeWitte and the City Council bear responsibility for not reigning their administrator in. The facts are undeniable. The testimony is clear. Why neither DeWitte nor the City Council have called upon Townsend to account for his actions, or why they have not called for an investigation, are questions that should trouble every voter. In these difficult economic times, every tax dollar is precious. Throwing them frivolously away on a hopeless cause is not good government, it's a waste of time and resources. The residents of St. Charles deserve better.