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Lancaster appoints police officer based on Police Chief's recommendation
By Lee Chowaniec
Jul 17, 2012, 10:25
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By a vote of 3-1 the Lancaster Town Board appointed Ron Giza Jr. to the position of police officer in the Town of Lancaster effective August 3, 2012. Giza will fill an opening as the result of the retirement of Captain Timothy Murphy effective July 20, 2012.

When the agenda appointment was reviewed at the work session that precedes the regular meeting, the only words spoken were by resolution sponsor Council member Donna Stempniak who simply stated that the board was going to vote on the police position filling based on the recommendation of Police Chief Gerald Gil.

The sole ‘no’ vote came from Supervisor Dino Fudoli who commented on the reason for the ‘no’ vote at the time resolution voting took place.

Several residents commented on and questioned the process that led to the determination that the appointee was best qualified and deserving.

Resident Lee Chowaniec

The police merger took place in 2003. In 2004, the year after the merger, there were 45 sworn officers on the police force. There was an increase in staff until we maxed out at 50 sworn officers in 2009, and that is the number listed in the 2012 budget.

Since 2004, the total town budget has increased from $23.09 million to $30.19 million; an increase of $7.1 million (30.7%, an annual average increase of 3.84%)

Since 2004, the police budget has increased from $6.03 million to $9.29 million; an increase of $3.26 million (64.9%, an annual average increase of 8.1%)

The 2012 budget of $9.29 million comprises 30.8% of the entire budget.

The increase in police fund spending has been responsible for 50.7% of the total budget increase.

The D.A.R.E officer position was eliminated in the school district this past year and that officer went back to full time patrol.

I have to then ask whether the town board ever conducted a cost benefit/risk analysis to determine whether we would be right sized at 49 sworn officers and not jeopardize public safety in the process by not filling the position and thereby saving the town and its taxpayer’s money in the process? Do we really need to fill this position is what I am asking.

Councilman Ronald Ruffino: “We asked the police chief whether we could get by with one less officer and the answer was ‘no’.

Chowaniec: “Okay, then I want to ask some questions about the process.

Supervisor Dino Fudoli: “I did some research on that matter and found we are right sized; to be honest with you.

Process questions

There has been a lot of gossip and innuendo going on by the public since the public became aware of the resolution over the weekend and because of the recommended candidate’s surname. It is in the board’s best interest to put rumor and allegations to rest by discussing the process and candidate qualifications. Who should I be addressing my questions to, the board in general or to the sponsor of the resolution, Ms. Stempniak?

Council member Stempniak: “I am taking the recommendation of the Chief of Police. I personally can’t comment on anythig.”

Councilman John Abraham: “I know what you are talking about. Last Thursday I had a lengthy conversation with the Police Chief and we did discuss the process. He said all the aspects of the civil service process were followed accurately. There are no discrepancies in the way the process was conducted. The list was called for; the people were canvassed – all according to specifications. The candidate did pass the civil service test and an out of town psychiatric evaluation test, which he passed with flying colors. So yes, the process was followed.”

Chowaniec: “That’s what you have heard. But what the public should hear is more in depth details on the process, so I will continue with my questions:

1) To be considered qualified for the position individuals have to take a county civil service exam. How many qualified from taking the exam and in turn expressed interest in serving on the Lancaster police force?

Councilman Abraham: “I believe there was one 100 score and twelve that scored 95’s.

Supervisor Fudoli: “There were a total of 16 that qualified.”

Chowaniec: “And how many of the 16 expressed interest in the position of Lancaster police officer”?

At this point Town Attorney John Dudziak advised the board that the questions being asked should be directed to Chief Gil or Police Captain Marco Laurienzo who is present today representing Chief Gil who is on vacation. “I think those questions should be directed to Mr. Laurenzio.”

Chowaniec: “Capt. Laurienzo how many of the 16 candidates that qualified on the civil service exam expressed interest in serving on the Lancaster police force?”

Capt. Laurenzio: “Twelve expressed interest.”

2) Were any applications submitted to the town from police officers already serving as such from other municipalities or sheriff’s department, or did Chief Gil only consider civil service list candidates?

Capt. Laurenzio: “No one that is currently a police officer showed any interest in applying; at least none to my knowledge.”

3) Is there any kind of exam that the town gives in the process to determine who is best qualified if the number of qualified candidates exceeded three?

Capt. Laurenzio:” Not to my knowledge. Just the interview and a background check. We rely on the county civil service testing.”

4) Where did the recommended candidate rank on the civil service exam? Did he place in the same group of list rankings and if so where all those applicants interviewed? In other words, if he didn’t place first, but in a subset where there were 14-15 other individuals, were all candidates interviewed?

Capt. Laurenzio: “No they were not (all interviewed).

Chowaniec: “Were there at least three candidates interviewed?”

Capt. Lorenzo: “No there weren’t.”

5) Chowaniec: “Is it true that preference can be given to Lancaster residents who apply for the position?”

Supervisor Fudoli: “You have to be a Lancaster resident.”

Chowaniec: “If someone applied and was not a Lancaster resident, does that mean they should not be interviewed?”

Fudoli: “No, because there is a six month window for that individual to move to Lancaster.”

Chowaniec: “If town board members are confident that the process used to vet the recommended candidate was credibly followed, then the board should approve Chief Gil’s recommendation. The only thing I find strange here is that of the 16 applicants that expressed interest and were qualified, only two were interviewed by Chief Gil? It has been my understanding, and that of many others, that the top three candidates should have been interviewed. If the decision is based on Chief Gil’s discretion, I was unaware of that.”

Councilman Ruffino: “I don’t know what the Chief’s reason was but when I spoke with Chief Gil he focused on certain criteria; possible future considerations, possible management skills. The Chief is a person of the future. I cannot speak for the man but maybe those are his reasons, that maybe he is working along those lines.”

Chowaniec: “All I am saying is that this board should not approve this resolution if the need is not there to hire an officer …

Supervisor Fudoli: “You are misstating my point. My research showed we could have gone down to 48 police officers, not 49.” (There are actually 49 sworn police officers in service. The budget calls for 50)

Chowaniec: “I just don’t want to see the town board put themselves in a position where there could be consequences resulting from the approval of this resolution.

NEXT: Part II: Other resident and voting comments

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