Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Special Meeting in Police Chief Search Results in “Chaos”

Chair calls executive director out of order repeatedly, then another commissioner calls chair a dictator.

By - Oct 9th, 2020 07:55 pm
Milwaukee City Hall. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee City Hall. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee’s search for a new police chief is off to a rocky start. A special meeting of the Milwaukee Fire & Police Commission descended into chaos Friday night.

Commissioners Steven M. DeVougas and Everett Cocroft had called the meeting to amend the search process, which currently includes six candidates. Commission members, according to multiple sources, are believed to want to add a seventh candidate, retired assistant chief Ray Banks, to the candidate list for the next police chief. Banks applied for the position, but was not named one of six finalists last week.

When the virtual meeting began, chair Nelson Soler called on executive director Griselda Aldrete to read the first item on the agenda. But that’s not what Aldrete did.

Instead Aldrete gave a brief speech saying that rumors that she was influencing the process, calling special meetings or authoring agendas were inaccurate. “No, I have not been asked for Ray Banks to be called on this meeting,” said Aldrete, who pulled out of her own reappointment process earlier this year and awaits a replacement. “I want to make sure the record shows I have not authored the agenda.” The executive director, appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the Common Council, serves the commissioners and cannot legally do the things she said was being accused of.

But Soler didn’t want Aldrete to address that. He repeatedly called her “out of order.” Aldrete, however, finished her speech and then read the agenda item – “Resolution to vote to amend the chief of police selection process.”

Soler then moved to hold the item, effectively ending the meeting.

“I know we elected you chair, but we did not elect you dictator,” said Raymond Robakowski, in opposition to the hold.

The former police officer said Soler didn’t have the authority to hold the item because he didn’t call the meeting.

But Soler said Robakowski was wrong about the rules, the chair can hold items. He called for the item to be heard at a meeting on October 13th at 5:30 p.m. “It is not being a dictator, it is being sensitive and transparent to the community,” said the chair. An assistant city attorney present for the meeting did not interject.

“Were we being transparent to the community when you changed it from five names to six names?” asked Robakowski. Soler said every member agreed to expand the candidate list to six. The commission announced the candidates on October 1st.

Commissioner Ann Wilson then spoke, telling Soler that allowing each member to voice their opinion should be allowed. “That’s why this item was placed on this agenda sir,” said Wilson. “I was under the impression this was a seven-member board. It appears the chair has become the board.”

Soler said he had received community outreach to hold the meeting and was transparent in always forwarding emails to other commissioners. Wilson said she had not heard from the community. “It appears to be all of the community is calling you and you are making the decisions about what has to be done.”

“I think what we are having an issue with here is the difference between process and input,” said Soler. “I have never made any decision without consulting all of you.” Soler, who originally told the Journal Sentinel he was unable to attend the meeting said he had made 30 minutes in his schedule. “We need to respect process.”

“My position is we didn’t have a process. We still don’t have a process,” said Cocroft. Wilson said she wants to hear from people that are upset with that process. Cocroft said he received opposition to the meeting from Darryl Morin, regional vice president of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).

Cocroft and DeVougas called the meeting after a special meeting Thursday that included a discussion of switching from public to private interviews and narrowing the field of candidates. Robakowski and Wilson had called Thursday’s meeting. Soler and Commissioner Angela McKenzie were not present for the public portions of Thursday’s meeting. McKenzie was not present for Friday’s meeting.

Cocroft moved to adjourn the meeting after stating that what was happening was “chaos.” Former chair DeVougas seconded the motion. “We can adjust the process and adjust the timeline,” said DeVougas. The attorney is subject to an ethics probe following the leak of a video, that benefitted former chief Alfonso Morales, that showed him with a client before police investigators. Soler was elected chair in August.

The commission has been criticized for a lack of transparency over the past year. Mayor Tom Barrett, who appoints the commissioners and executive director, said the body was “completely lacking in transparency” after the Morales’ demotion. Alderwoman JoCasta Zamarripa issued a statement Friday blasting the commission’s dysfunction, echoing criticism from her colleagues that now dates back over a year.

The approved finalists for the position are MPD assistant chief Jeffrey Norman, FBI supervisory special agent Hoyt Mahaley, Pittsburgh Police Department commander Jason Lando, Dallas Police Department major Malik Aziz, Police Police Department deputy Chris Davis and John E. Pate, a former police chief for a Chicago suburb and now a city manager in the Miami area.

In the coming months, the commission will also need to select a new fire chief after long-time chief Mark Rohlfing announced his retirement. The executive director position has been posted for candidates to apply.

Under state law, the commission, not the Mayor or Common Council, is responsible for hiring and firing the police and fire chiefs.

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Categories: Public Safety

One thought on “City Hall: Special Meeting in Police Chief Search Results in “Chaos””

  1. just1paul says:

    This circus of a commision needs to be disbanded and replaced with a group including two or three ordinary citizens of different races, appointed by the common council and approved by a committee of regular citizens.

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