By Kevin Kelley
Mayor Dennis Clough has formally requested the civil service commission change its rules and allow the mayor to select the police and fire chiefs from among the top two candidates as determined by the civil service test for the given position.
Currently, the top scorer of the test is automatically named police or fire chief.
The civil service commission is presently reviewing its rules following a controversy in the selection of the current police chief, Kevin Bielozer. After the February 2013 police chief test, Capt. Eric Schantz was initially declared the high scorer. However, Bielozer later wrote to the city’s civil service commission questioning the results.
Past tests consisted of a written portion and an assessment center portion, and the civil service rules reflected that. However, the February 2013 test consisted of just the assessment center portion, which itself included two written and two oral exams. Because the rules stated that extra credit points for education and seniority should be applied to the written test, confusions arose as to how the results should have been calculated.
Based on the opinion of Law Director John Wheeler, the civil service commission voted unanimously to recalculate the results in favor of Bielozer.
The commission intends to revise several rules as a result of that episode.
Because the commission was looking at its rules, Clough decided to request a rule change allowing the mayor to select the police or fire chief from among the two highest-scoring candidates.
“I just asked them to consider it,” Clough explained.
Clough initially asked for the mayor to have the right to select from the top three candidates without specifying any positions, meaning the proposed rule change would apply to all promotional positions. He later amended his request to the top two candidates for the police and fire chief positions.
In an Feb. 5 memo to commission members, Clough said the right to select the chief is important because of the close working relationship a chief has with the mayor, who also serves as the city safety director.
“I believe the city is best served when choices are permitted,” Clough wrote.
He also noted that, in many other communities, the mayor has the right to appoint chiefs.
Opponents of such a rule change say it defeats the purpose of civil service testing, namely to keep politics out of the police and fire departments.
“Not only does this concentrate too much power in the hands of one politician, it completely negates the purpose and outcomes of competitive civil service testing,” said Westlake police Capt. Guy Turner in a letter to West Life.
Clough rejected that argument, saying there can be no politics in civil service.
“In order to even get hired as a police officer, you go through the civil service process,” the mayor told West Life.
Besides, Clough said, either of the top two finalists for the chief’s job would be qualified and deserving of the post, Clough argued.
Clough also questioned why, if the chief is to be selected based on the test score alone, extra points are awarded based on seniority and academic degrees.
Under one rule change now being considered by the commission, no education extra credit will be given for the police or fire chief’s position after Jan. 1, 2017, because an academic degree will be required for those positions.
Commission Chairman Steve Presley said he has not yet decided how he will vote on Clough’s requested rule change.
“I think there are valid points on both sides of the argument,” Presley told West Life.
The commission needs to make sure its rules are not based on or favor any particular individual, Presley said. The commission should also take another look at the entire testing process to make sure it accurately scrutinizes the candidates, he said, adding that new testing firms should be considered.
The three-member commission will next meet at 8 a.m. Feb. 28 at Westlake City Hall, when it is expected to vote on the rule changes.
The commission is expected to meet either Thursday or Friday to vote on the proposed rule changes, Presley said.