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We were surprised to hear that Northfield Mayor Jesse Nehez put his pick for police chief in charge of the department, despite Village Council's disagreement.
The village charter requires a 2/3 majority of Council to confirm the mayor's appointment of a chief of police. Though a vote was not taken, Nehez indicated that he did not have the Council support necessary to appoint the candidate he wanted. Rather than seek an alternative appointee Council would support, Nehez replaced Lt. Jamie Mackie as officer in charge of the department with Sgt. John Zolgus, the appointee Nehez could not convince Council to support.
Without arguing the merits of Nehez's decision -- both the lieutenant and sergeant have spent long, honorable careers in the village -- the decision to replace Mackie with a subordinate as officer in charge appears, at the very least, to be an unusual situation.
After all, Mackie had been second-in-command at the department for many years and had been put in charge to keep things running when former Police Chief Mark Wentz retired. Mackie, along with Zolgus and a police captain from another department, had been one of three finalists out of a field of eight who applied for the police chief job.
Had Council approved Zolgus' appointment as chief, there could be no doubt as to the new chief's mandate. But Nehez says Zolgus will be officer in charge "indefinitely," apparently in hope that some member or members of Council will someday change their minds.
"I already believe he can do the job. He has to prove it to Council," Nehez told us.
Law Director Brad Bryan says the mayor's decision to replace Mackie with Zolgus as officer in charge is not a violation of the charter. Nor, says Bryan, does the charter put a time limit on the how long it should take the mayor to appoint a police chief.
Surely, this is not what the village founders intended when they wrote in the charter "The police department shall consist of a Chief of Police and other such officers, patrolmen and personnel as Council deems advisable."
We have confidence the village police will continue to perform their duties in a professional manner and would urge Mayor Nehez and Council to come to terms with their responsibilities -- one of which includes the appointment of a charter review commission this year.
As we see it, this situation makes it clear the village's governing document could use an update.