Chief's status resolved within days

By: Stephanie Dumm, News Messenger Reporter
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Whether Lincoln’s Police Chief Brian Vizzusi will return to work will be resolved by Friday or next week, according to City Manager Jim Estep. The police chief has been on paid leave since at least Jan. 14 and there have been rumors called into The News Messenger daily since then about Vizzusi being fired. When asked Monday by The News Messenger about whether he fired Vizzusi, Estep said the “police chief had not been terminated.” Estep said, however, that some of the rumors circulating around town “have an ounce of truth.” Vizzusi was granted an additional two weeks paid leave time on Jan. 22 “in order to attend to some difficult family issues which have affected his relationship with his staff,” according to a statement issued by the city’s public information officer Jill Thompson. The News Messenger has been told about a possible vote-of-no-confidence by the Police Officer Association. The News Messenger spoke Jan 21. with David Krause and Brett Schneider, two representatives from the Police Officers Association, who said there had not been a vote-of-no-confidence. When asked Wednesday by The News Messenger if Police Officers Association members talked to him about complaints regarding Vizzusi, Estep said he heard from “a number of staff people in the police department, in the Police Officers Association and (officers not in the association). When asked Wednesday if he wanted Vizzusi to return to work, Estep said, “no comment.” But on Monday, when asked that question, Estep said, “Vizzusi is a “great guy. He’s done an excellent job for the city and has done nothing illegal, unethical, immoral or unsafe.” The police chief will “either be back at work, or if some reason he doesn’t return, an interim police chief may be brought in for awhile,” according to Estep. “What he’s doing right now is weighing his options,” Estep said. “He’s trying to decide what he wants to do.” Vizzusi did not return phone calls Tuesday or by press time Wednesday about his employment status. The Police Officers Association’s representatives also did not return calls left Tuesday and Wednesday by The News Messenger, asking again if there had been a vote-of-no-confidence and what the morale issues in the police department have been. The chief’s “relationship with (his) staff is tenuous, even under the best circumstances,” Estep said Monday. “Trying to operate as police of chief during these difficult economic times is difficult,” Estep added. “For a whole variety of reasons, he and his staff are having difficulties.” The city manager said there have been “morale issues” in the police department for a variety of reasons, including officers being laid off, officers having to give up salary and benefit concessions, and working understaffed. Estep was referring to the police pay cuts and layoffs from a year ago. The News Messenger asked if Vizzusi had anything to do with the morale issues and Estep replied “nothing I could pinpoint that he was doing.” Estep also said, “given the economic crisis, the department heads and city manager are typically held responsible.” Mayor Tom Cosgrove on Tuesday said he would “be very disappointed” if Vizzusi wasn’t the police chief any more “because he’s done a great job and he’s brought new ideas and innovations. Brian really is a good guy and I hold him in the highest regards.” The News Messenger tried contacting other City Council members to ask if Vizzusi should return to work. Councilmen Spencer Short had no comment Tuesday and Kent Nakata said the police chief “is a person of good character.” “During his set up of the police department, I think he’s done a real good job,” Nakata said. Councilwoman Linda Stackpoole did not return a phone call; Councilman Paul Joiner said he could not comment because it was regarding a personnel issue. While three of the five City Council members either didn’t return phone calls or comment about Vizzusi’s status, residents voiced their opinions. Diana Burke, owner of Simple Pleasures and a long-time resident, said she “didn’t know what he (Vizzusi) was basing his decisions on but (I) would like to see him stay.” “I can tell from personal interactions with him that he’s been professional and an asset to the community,” Burke said. “Yeah, I’d like to see him here but I think he should do what’s best for his family and himself.” The News Messenger also asked Lincoln resident Adam Burke, who met Vizzusi through Toastmasters, if the police chief should return to work. “I don’t know much about his personal things, but I thought he was a good police chief,” Burke said. “I think he’s a very nice man, he’s done a nice job, and whenever I saw him or talked to him, he was always trying to better the community.” Vic Freeman, the planning commission chairman and a Rotary member with Vizzusi, said the police chief is “a good man and I’d hate to lose him.” While on paid administrative leave, Estep said Vizzusi is being paid via “leave balances” he has accrued. The leave balances are much like vacation pay built up over time, according to Estep. When asked if the police department’s morale was down because of Vizzusi, acting police Chief Paul Shelgren had no comment.