EFFINGHAM, Ill. (WCIA) — People came to the police chief’s defense at Tuesday night’s council meeting after recent controversy put his employment into question.
In April, 25 out of 26 officers and telecommunicators cast a “no confidence” vote against Chief Jeff Fuesting. His reappointment was left off the city council agenda. People are skeptical about the timing.
When asked if Chief Fuesting would be reappointed, Mayor Mike Schutzbach said he would not talk about personnel matters. He also wouldn’t say when they plan to make a decision. But some people showed up at the council meeting with plenty to say.
Mayor Schutzbach and three council members were sworn into office Tuesday night. But Police Chief Fuesting wasn’t at the council meeting. Controversy within the police department has caused a frenzy of questions.
Former Effingham deputy police chief Danny Lake didn’t hesitate to bring that up before the newly appointed council.
He said, “The main question I have that probably won’t be answered is why are we firing the most qualified person for this position?”
The mayor hasn’t publicly said if he plans to replace Chief Fuesting. The issue came up because of the “no confidence” vote. The officers and telecommunicators claim it was spurred by contract problems and a hostile workplace.
Chief Fuesting disputed the accusations saying “he has a good relationship with the officers, everybody is treated fairly and these votes are more about politics than performance.” He believes this is a union tactic to strategize contract negotiations. The department is in the middle of that right now.
The timing of his delayed re-appointment has some wondering if council plans to fire him.
Lake said, “At first I questioned the motives of the newly elected mayor and council. Then I heard the police union was backing the mayor and council to not reappoint Chief Fuesting.”
After 24 years on the police force, Lake retired Monday. He said it’s because he wanted to avoid the fallout of what could potentially happen within the police department because of this.
Lake said, “If the union thought Chief Fuesting was inadequate or not fit for the position, why was the vote not performed earlier, like a year ago? Or was it to take the heat off the newly elected mayor or council and put it on the union?”
Lake ended his speech to council in praise of his former co-worker saying, “I have never worked with a more dedicated chief. His main goal is to protect the citizens of Effingham.”
One other person spoke up asking the newly appointed council to carefully consider its decision moving forward.
Brian Shultz said, “I hope the new commissioners will work with Chief Fuesting for a minimum of at least a year to observe what he’s going before any decisions are made about removing him.”
There will be a special meeting Monday May 13 to talk about the citywide personnel appointment ordinance.