The chairman of Joliet’s fire and police board quit a week ago and blamed it on the head of the patrol officers union and the city manager.
The recently resigned chairman, Todd Wooten, said both City Manager Jim Capparelli and union President Mike Devito “repeatedly played the race card” in their dealings with him in fire and police board matters, and he’s had enough.
Wooten also said the finalization of his divorce and his impending move to Las Vegas factored into his decision to resign, but he’s doing so sooner rather than later because of Capparelli and Devito.
“There’s no way I can have a working relationship with Devito or Mr. Capparelli moving forward,” Wooten said.
So Wooten’s leaving and the fire and police board is without a chairman. That seems less than ideal, but is it really the worst thing in the world?
The fire and police board is supposedly responsible for recruiting and hiring personnel, promoting officers and firefighters, and conducting disciplinary hearings.
There’s no reason to doubt the board holds up its end as far as hiring and promoting go, but with disciplinary hearings, they have been somewhat less than active.
“We never had one,” Wooten said of the number of fire and police board disciplinary hearings held while he’s been around.
“They always found a way to circumvent us,” he said. “In my six years we never had one.”
In light of the recently approved patrol officer’s union contract and how it now allows disciplinary appeals to an arbitrator to first go to the city manager, it’s hard to imagine the fire and police board ever holding a hearing again.
Who in their right mind would choose to go before the board when there’s the option of leaving the decision to Capparelli? This is the same guy who decided to keep Officer Dave Blackmore around when he was recommended for termination by former Police Chief Al Roechner.
Blackmore, you may recall, falsified an accident report, lied about an on-duty injury and attempted to fraudulently collect workman’s comp, according to a law firm hired by the city to review his case.
It’s hard to imagine how Blackmore avoided getting arrested. But thanks to Capparelli, he didn’t even lose his job.
When pressed, Capparelli had little in the way of explanation for why he allowed Blackmore to remain on the police force after the chief recommended him for termination. He did say in an email that he believed firing him was “not warranted” but failed to elaborate beyond that.
This was something Capparelli was able to do even before they got it into the contract that discipline will be appealed to the city manager before it goes to an arbitrator. And the city manager before him, interim Jim Hock, wasn’t shy about inserting himself into police discipline either, completely rescinding a 25-day suspension for former Officer Joe Clement, who is now a city councilman, and reducing another officer’s 12-day suspension to a written reprimand.
With Capparelli and Hock already undoing all this discipline, you have to wonder why anyone went to the trouble of getting the city manager clause put in the new contract in the first place. At this point, Capparelli may as well take over as chairman of the fire and police board, just to make sure everything’s covered.
• Joe Hosey is the editor of The Herald-News. You can reach him at 815-280-4094, at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JoeHosey.