Posted on Tuesday, October 16 2007 by Heather Brandon
At a meeting of the Springfield Finance Control Board today, Mayor Charles Ryan and control board executive director Stephen Lisauskas were empowered, by a unanimous vote, to appoint immediately an acting police commissioner “should the need arise.”
Following the meeting, Mayor Ryan and Lisauskas together announced that in the event of Police Commissioner Edward Flynn‘s resignation, they would appoint Deputy Chief William Fitchet as acting commissioner.
In early 2005, when Fitchet (as acting commissioner) was passed over in favor of the selection of Flynn for the top post, Mayor Ryan called Fitchet a “bridge of integrity and steadfastness” between the administration of former Police Chief Paula Meara and newly-hired Commissioner Flynn. At the time, reporter and editor G. Michael Dobbs quoted Fitchet, “I’m disappointed, but I am a professional police officer and I will continue to be a professional police officer.”
Ordinarily personnel matters would come before the full control board for approval. Board chairman Christopher Gabrieli explained, knowing the possibility that Commissioner Flynn may resign, “We felt that given the importance of public safety in Springfield—and anyplace—we need to understand the current facts as well as what would happen should there be a need to make a change.”
The board requested that City Solicitor Edward Pikula publicly present the nuts and bolts of Commissioner Flynn’s five-year contract. “Under the first three years of the agreement,” Pikula began, “the commissioner cannot be removed unless we have just cause, defined under the statutes as basically misconduct in office. There are terms that deal with the fact that if he resigned as a result of the suggestion of the city, we would have to pay him severance pay. It would be owed if we asked for his resignation, if he did resign as a result of a suggestion—after saying, hey, I’m willing to stay—it could trigger some legal action in us owing him some severance pay.”
Mayor Ryan clarified, “I understand that if Commissioner Flynn were to resign now—by now, I mean in the next matter of weeks—that he’s entitled to no severance pay.” Correct, said Pikula. “On the other hand,” Ryan continued, “if the city—and by this I assume we’re talking the city government—formally suggests that he resign, called by office-holders, asking for resignation, that would denote a necessity to pay 12 months’ salary. Isn’t that right, in severance?” Yes, it could trigger the severance clause, conceded Pikula.
City Council President Kateri Walsh wanted to know if the commissioner is required to give the city notice of an impending resignation. “There is a 30-day notice provision,” stated Pikula, “[regarding] which the commissioner may enact a waiver, if he should decide to leave earlier.”
Board member James Morton wondered about the specifics of the matter of the “city suggesting” something. He asked, “In the contract, who is it that can suggest that he leave? Who has the authority?”
“Well, under contract, no one,” Pikula replied. “But if the city does formally request it, that can trigger the clause.”
“And the city would be…whom?” asked Morton.
“The city of Springfield,” Pikula said. “It acts through its control board, or acts through the mayor, or its executive decision-maker, or executive director of the control board, if those powers are delegated.
Below is a transcript of Mayor Ryan and Lisauskas’s briefing of members of the press.
Mayor Charles Ryan: In accordance with the vote of the control board making Mr. Lisauskas and me the board’s designees, we would like to announce that in the event that Commissioner Flynn resigns to take a new job, we will immediately appoint Deputy Chief William Fitchet as acting commissioner so that there will be no gap at all in the leadership role of the Springfield Police Department.
You may remember that when Chief [Paula] Meara resigned a little over a couple of years ago, we had the same situation occur, and at that time, Phil Puccia and I appointed Deputy Chief Fitchet, and he served as acting commissioner for seven months, the latter part of which was taken up with the nationwide search. So it will be Deputy Chief Fitchet again, if that eventuality occurs.
Ray Hershel of ABC40: Mr. Mayor, would you ask for Commissioner Flynn to resign, as—
Ryan: No, I—
Hershel: —Councilor [Domenic] Sarno has asked?
Ryan: You must not have been listening—
Hershel: I was listening.
Ryan: —because if I do that, it may cost us $155,000. That’s an ill-advised speech to make. It’s very clear in the contract that if the city suggests, not even urges, but suggests, that he resign, that instead of no severance pay, he would get 12 months severance pay. So I’m certainly not going to do that; that’s foolhardy.
John Baibak of WHYN: Mayor, when Councilor Sarno suggested that yesterday, does he set that in motion?
Ryan: Did I—what?
Baibak: When Councilor Sarno said yesterday that he should resign, as a city official, does he set that clause in motion?
Ryan: I don’t know; that’s a legal interpretation. I certainly would hope he doesn’t do it again, and I would hope that none of his colleagues do it. It’s a very serious thing, and we’re governed by laws, and it’s a contract, and it has the force of law, so it’s not smart. So we’ll do it soberly, exactly the way the board has met today.
Peter Goonan of the Republican: What is your reaction to the news that he’s an applicant for that job in Milwaukee?
Ryan: Well, I’ve already indicated that I was disappointed, certainly, when he came here. We had enough chances to ask him, and did ask him, to make sure that he would be staying, and we would sure that he would be. And so this is something that we did not anticipate. However, he’s made this decision, and will go forward, and our job now is to keep our eye on the ball, and to act prudently on behalf of the people of Springfield.
Heather Brandon of Urban Compass: Mr. Mayor, has Commissioner Flynn expressed job dissatisfaction?
Ryan: None at all. And I think we’ve had a very fine and close working relationship. I know that I and the control board have been extremely supportive of the commissioner, and the leadership of the department. We’ve added significant funding to the department. It means more manpower, technology aides, cruisers, and the like, so I don’t think that there’s any, let’s say, internal problem that caused this. I think this is his own independent judgment and choice.
Paul Tuthill of WAMC: Given the fact that you have been so supportive of him financially, of the department, how does the fact that he’s even considering this position in Milwaukee affect your working relationship? [Listen to Tuthill's report here]
Ryan: Once I’ve gotten by expressing my disappointment, there’s really nothing more to say. It’s a free country. Men and women have the freedom of choice. This is a decision he made, and he’s answerable for it, and it doesn’t do any good to just wish him well if he gets the job, but really to immediately turn our attention to a process which will result, first of all, in an acting commissioner, and ultimately in a permanent commissioner.
Control Board Executive Director Stephen Lisauskas: I think as the mayor has said, and the chairman said earlier, public safety is critical for the city of Springfield, and we have now a strong police commissioner, and strong leadership, strong management in the department. If the commissioner decides, if he moves to Milwaukee or another city at some point in the future, we will have a strong interim chief, who for seven months worked as commissioner—strong performance there—and if the eventuality does come to pass, then we will have strong management and strong leadership in effect in an interim period. And then, when a permanent commissioner is appointed, we will have strong management and leadership there. As President Walsh indicated, there is going to be no break in service. There will be no break in management and leadership. The department needs to continue to move forward. It’s done a good job doing so, and we need to continue that.
Baibak: Mayor, if Flynn goes, you really have to give Fitchet the job permanently, right? Knowing his history here?
Ryan: No, no, no, we’re not there at all. Again, that will be a process. Nobody should get ahead of themselves in this. The control board did not get into that decision today. The only decision made today is we felt that we had a responsibility to announce to the public, through you, as to what would happen if, in fact, he resigns, as to whether or not there will be interim leadership—and there will be—in the person of Deputy Fitchet. But the whole process of where we go from there has not even been talked about by the control board. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, if we have to.