As Mayor Emanuel asks the City Council to give him a one-time exemption to circumvent city law and make interim Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson the permanent pick, some aldermen are working to restructure the organizations that oversee the police department with an eye toward more transparency.
Today, the Council’s Public Safety Committee will be asked to consider an ordinance from Mayor Rahm Emanuel that would give him a one-time exemption to bypass the Police Board and appoint Johnson to officially succeed former Police Supt. Garry McCarthy, who was ousted from his seat following the public outcry of the department’s handling of the police shooting of Laquan McDonald. After considering and voting on that measure, aldermen will then be asked to confirm interim Police Supt. Johnson to the post. Johnson is expected to be on hand to answer questions from committee members.
This comes just a day before the monthly City Council meeting, where two South Side aldermen, Leslie Hairston (5) and Jason Ervin (28) are expected to introduce two separate proposals to reform how cases of police misconduct are handled by oversight agencies. Later that afternoon, aldermen are scheduled to briefed on the findings from Mayor Emanuel’s Police Accountability Task Force, which will be publicly released on Friday.
And for the most part, despite being critical of the Mayor’s handling of the superintendent search last month, aldermen have accepted that Johnson will be taking the helm of the department, saying the cost and time required to launch a new search would be wasteful.
Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6), Chairman of the Council’s Black Caucus, said that while the Caucus is “not ecstatic about the process,” they are satisfied with the selection of Johnson.
“Our concerns, especially on the South and West Side, is getting a superintendent in there to hit the ground running, start working,” Ald. Sawyer said to reporters Monday. “[The] process, we have some issues with. But the most important thing is getting somebody on the job that can help us, and the situation we are experiencing right now.”
“I wish that the process would have been followed but it’s kind of tough when you as the mayor say what you want to see, and the board gives you something different,” echoed Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36), who noted that about “90 percent” of the rank and file officers he spoke to say Johnson is a “good guy.”
“But in this case, I think it’s too late where we’re at right now, and the mayor said he wants Johnson, so why would we spend money doing another search just to get the result of Johnson?” Villegas added. Last week, the Sun-Times reported the city spent $500,000 to conduct a nationwide search and pick three finalists for former Supt. Garry McCarthy’s replacement.
Ald. Emma Mitts (37) expressed a similar desire to move forward, rather than spend taxpayer money on another search.
Under city code, when there is a vacancy in the superintendent of police position, the Police Board is required to nominate three candidates to fill the position and to submit those nominations to the mayor.
“In designating the nominees for the position of superintendent of police, the board shall be governed solely by the professional and executive qualifications required for the position which shall be without reference to the residence of the nominees,” according to the section of the Municipal Code related to the board’s powers and duties. “If none of the nominees accept appointment, the board shall submit new lists of three nominees until the position is filled.”
Today, aldermen will vote on a one-time exemption. The amendment to the municipal code “lifts the requirement that the Police Board go through its process and then it reinstates it after a short period of time,” Ald. John Arena (45) said, explaining that he was told by representatives from the Mayor’s office. “So it really is just isolated to this one appointment. But that begs the question: if we do that, then why do we do the process in the first place?”
The Police Board was put in place in 1960 by then-Mayor Richard J. Daley, following the infamous Summerdale Scandal. Mayor Daley appointed criminologistOrlando W. Wilson as superintendent of police. Wilson would go on to move the superintendent’s office from City Hall to Police Headquarters, de-politicize promotions with the department, and usher in the creation of the Police Board.
Fifty-six years later, and the council’s longest serving alderman, Ed Burke (14), said that he didn’t think aldermen should be concerned that the Mayor wants to forego the entire process. “What the citizens need, and what the men and women of the police department need, is certainty about who is going to lead the police department during these critical times,” Burke said, adding that Johnson fits that bill.
“Whatever it is, it’s going to be the Mayor’s choice,” Ald. Sawyer said, adding that the Police Board could conduct multiple searches, but at the end of the day, it’s the mayor who gets to decide who should get the job. “Any mayor who does not have the authority to pick their superintendent has the risk of having that office failing, because he’s not controlling that portion of it. Not to say that person shouldn’t have autonomy…but it’s going to be the Mayor’s pick.”