Wednesday, May 21, 2014

EDITORIAL >> Chief wants to be mayor

When Gary Sipes was hired as Jacksonville’s police chief in 2008 he promised to keep his “private life unsullied as an example to all.”

And he’s done that, but he has sure thrown a curveball into the mayor’s race.

Sipes, 57, has every right to run, but it creates a conundrum for both the chief and his opponent, Mayor Gary Fletcher.

Fletcher, 59, is the boss. Sipes is the employee. Sipes, like all department heads in the city, serves at the pleasure or behest of the mayor.

So, if Sipes continues as police chief much longer, what does that do to the chain of command? If he disagrees with the mayor in a department head meeting, is he disagreeing as the police chief or as the political candidate?

Should Fletcher exercise his right as mayor and ask for Sipes’ resignation to prevent friction in the line of duty? Or would that alienate voters and look like retribution? Should Sipes resign in good faith?

If he stays on and doesn’t win, with all the mud that might be tossed back and forth between him and Fletcher politically, he most assuredly would be asked to leave in November.

Of course if he wins, he will be happy to leave the police chief position. Sipes has pretty much hinted he’ll leave voluntarily this summer.

Sipes, a former director of code enforcement in North Little Rock and a 21-year veteran of that city’s police department, tried for the Jacksonville police chief job in 2004, losing out to homegrown Capt. Robert Baker. Sipes went on to become the chief of police for Benton.

When Baker retired, Sipes tried again for the Jacksonville job and was selected by former Mayor Tommy Swaim. When Fletcher became mayor, he could have sought out a new police chief, but was pleased with the selection of Sipes, and as an alderman had approved the pick.

This should be an interesting contest in November. Fletcher and Sipes both have several decades of valuable experience in municipal government. Both men have their supporters. It will be interesting to find out who will rally behind the candidates as Jacksonville voters prepare to form their own school district this fall.

When Sipes applied for the police chief position, he made it clear that “this was not a spur-of-the moment thing.”

Let us hope that his decision to run for mayor was also not a spur-of-the-moment thing because win-or-lose, it will change the city’s leadership team for years to come.