Friday, July 07, 2017

EDITORIAL >> Police get new bosses

Jacksonville City Attorney Robert Bamburg has picked up additional duties since the hiring and unhiring of Geoffrey Herweg as the city’s police chief.

Bamburg has had to fight a lawsuit by city council member Tara Smith, who has convinced a judge that at least until a full trial is held, Herweg cannot serve as chief because of a 17-year-old arrest in Texas.

More hearings are scheduled before Circuit Judge Alice Gray, whose antipathy toward Herweg and the city suggests she will continue to rule against Herweg’s rehiring.

As the embattled former police chief assumes an administrative consulting job with the city, Bamburg takes over much of Herweg’s duties as police department manager, in addition to the daily grind as city attorney and running his own law practice. He’s going to be busy for much of the year fighting back Smith’s lawsuit and running the police department and other city business, but without extra compensation at this point, in addition to whatever hours he can devote as a private attorney.

Bamburg has always been busy: As city attorney for 30 years, he has never given an interview or returned a phone call to the editors at The Leader.

During this period of turmoil, Mayor Gary Fletcher remains head of public safety with Bamburg’s assistance until the judge decides whether or not Herweg’s 15-year-old misdemeanor guilty plea for filing a false police report disqualifies him from working as a police chief in Arkansas.

After serving more than two months on the job, Herweg continues to draw his chief’s salary in a much-diminished role, but he may never get his old job back again if the courts rule against him.

The trial on Smith’s original complaint that Herweg was an illegal hire has not been scheduled yet, but it is expected to be held two or three months from now. In the meantime, the city has appealed the temporary restraining order that forced Herweg out. The mayor is confident that Herweg will get back to his position of chief.

Regardless the outcome of the trial, it most likely will be appealed to the state Supreme Court, so the case could drag on till the end of the year.

Department heads serve at the will of the mayor. Should he be reinstated, Herweg, without a doubt, would be police chief as long as Fletcher is mayor, but should he step down or lose an election, the new guy or gal could clean house, likely starting with Herweg, who didn’t deserve to step into this much uncertainty.

But for now the embattled chief has the support of 90 percent of the council and a majority of police officers and that will go a long way in closing this schism.