Interim police chief to be hired

By: Stephanie Dumm, News Messenger Reporter
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The City Council voted three to two Tuesday night to hire an interim police chief. The interim police chief will be a retired police chief and the employment contract for that person could be brought to the City Council by the next City Council meeting, according to City Manager Jim Estep. The previous chief of police was Brian Vizzusi, who left the department in February, and Lt. Paul Shelgren has been filling in as acting police chief. During Tuesday’s meeting, Shelgren said he would not apply for the position of police chief. Shelgren said Wednesday that the city “needs a long-term chief who will be committed to the community, take up roots here, and be here for the long-term.” “I’m looking at retirement in 2012,” Shelgren said. “It was never my career goal to be chief of police on a permanent basis. I like my job and I do so much outside of work. I do community service outside of Lincoln and within the community.” As a lieutenant, Shelgren said he likes “being able to be part of the decision-making process, leading and guiding the department and giving input on big decisions.” “I get to do cop work and have the freedom to help out in the community,” Shelgren said, who is involved in programs such as the Police Activities League and the Planning Commision for Marysville. The cost of hiring an interim police chief could cost the city from $125,000 to $150,000, according to Estep. The City Council was asked to make the decision about hiring an interim police chief by the Public Safety Committee, in light of the city’s current financial situation, according to Shelgren. Councilmembers Linda Stackpoole and Kent Nakata are on the Public Safety Committee. “It is the recommendation of the Public Safety Committee that an experienced police chief be hired on an interim basis to provide leadership to the department during these extraordinary economic times,” Shelgren said. The decision to hire an interim police chief was met by opposition during public comment. “I would ask you to consider not filling the position of chief of police with an interim police chief, ” community member Stan Nader said, citing the deficiency of the general fund as a reason. “I would ask you not to fill the position so the city can continue to maintain the level of police officers on the street.” Brett Schneider, president of Lincoln’s Police Officer’s Association, attended Tuesday’s meeting, along with several police officers. Schneider addressed the City Council, and was against the hiring of an interim police chief. “I know I will have to say goodbye to a fellow officer,” Schneider, said, if the hire was to be made, “because of money that would be spent to fund the interim police chief.” “Spending the general fund on a non-vital position is a non-vital decision. (Not hiring an interim police chief) would allow us to keep an officer on the street,” Schneider said. “I ask you at this time to think before we jump and do what’s best for the community.” Schneider’s statement was met with applause from the audience. The News Messenger asked two of the police officers present about the decision to hire an interim police chief but was directed to Schneider. “My concern is how to make up the $150,000 somewhere in the general fund,” Schneider said after the meeting. The $150,000 is the possible cost to fund an interim police chief. Stackpoole said hiring an interim police chief would mean “no cost for benefits” and the city “would not lose an officer.” “We’re looking at a retired chief of police, someone familiar with an economic downturn, a fresh set of eyes, someone that could improve efficiency,” Stackpoole said. Councilmembers Spencer Short, Stackpoole, and Nakata voted to direct the staff to hire an interim police chief while Mayor Tom Cosgrove and Paul Joiner did not. “I’m not willing to spend the additional amount of money for someone who is not the long-term police chief,” Cosgrove said. “An interim leader doesn’t provide the same sense of leadership.” Cosgrove said Shelgren has “provided strong leadership in his role” and could continue to do so until a permanent chief was hired. “I’ve been watching closely and I think Paul Shelgren has done an excellent job,” Joiner said. “I would support not filling the position, and once we get the budget in place look for a full time police chief. I would like to see savings go the general fund.” Short said not having an interim police chief “is costing us Paul’s time in the department” and the hire of one would not take away any police officers.