Information, observations, and analysis from the James River valley on the Northern Plains-----
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Moline, Ill.--Last week the front page of my old newspaper, The Dispatch, carried a story that a city police officer was being fired. He is on unpaid suspension and will be permanently terminated if the firing is upheld by the appeal process.
The chief of police presented the full charges and their details to the press. The officer got into a minor accident while driving one evening across the river in Davenport, Iowa. Tests show that he had enough alcohol in his system to be legally drunk. The officer tried to get some law-enforcement buddies to intervene for him, he got abusive, and he generally conducted himself in a way that a police officer, on or off duty, should not. He was convicted of the DUI charge. The chief decided that the incident required disciplinary action, as it violated the rules of conduct to which a police officer subscribes when he joins the force.
The Dispatch ran an editorial stating that, although the incident was an embarrassment, the chief's actions in revealing all the facts behind the firing bolstered the community's trust and respect for the police department.
This full disclosure and open discussion of the issue contrasts with the practice in Aberdeen. This matter was a personnel issue. However, it is also a public issue about how people who are paid to enforce the law and work for justice are doing their jobs and conducting themselves. The Moline Police Department did not put the cloak of secrecy over the incident under the claim that personnel matters are confidential. When personnel matters affect the public attitudes and perceptions, they are not confidential. They are a matter of public business.
Aberdeen fired two police officers. The firings were deemed wrongful by the then City Commission, and the officers were given severance settlements. Other police officers have resigned. Despite the fact that firings and resignations deal directly with the way city government is being run, nobody can get at what the problems are because the issues involved are declared secret as personnel matters.
In Moline, the taxpayers and citizens are ackknowledge to be the employers of the city officials. As employers, they have the right to know what is going on with their employees. When personnel matters affect the quality of performance of the city and the quality of life, they are public business.
The differene between Moline and Aberdeen is that Moline operates as a democracy. Aberdeen is operated as a petty, semi-competent police state. We are puzzled why people are content to live under such a regime.