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Monday, April 29, 2013

Hellwig interview leaves unanswered questions

If 'just and capable government' were not so important,
why would we put it over the entrance to City Hall?
Plainfield's Charter Study Commission interviewed Public Safety and Police Director Martin Hellwig and Councilors Cory Storch and Rebecca Williams at its April 25 meeting.

Director Hellwig's interview was quite informative, yet at the same time unsatisfying, with many unanswered questions.

Hellwig's answers to the Commission's standard list of questions were well-formed and gave evidence of considerable thought by the Director on the issues the Commission is investigating. He is an excellent interviewee, putting his interlocutors at ease and delivering information in a manner that shows he is informed but at the same time is not overbearing or condescending. This is not an easy thing to do, and Hellwig excels at it. Kudos.

On the other hand, Hellwig's delivery is seductive in that it is a highly polished form of special pleading. Hellwig recounted his own personal experience as a sworn officer with adminisrative responsibilities and his interactions with chiefs of police -- which he cast as independent power centers that don't always have the taxpayers' interests at heart.

In fact, Hellwig, concluded, he really thought that there should be civilian directors of both the police and fire divisions as a way of countering negative aspects of these organization's 'cultures'. I was wondering whether that wasn't supposed to be the job of the Public Safety Director as Plainfield has up to this point envisioned it? So, why would yet another layer of administration make things better?

Besides that, Hellwig's well-woven responses left out of consideration entirely the question that was most bothersome when the Robinson-Briggs administration rejiggered the Public Affairs and Safety Department a few years ago: Will a civilian police director be unduly subject to the whims and willfulness of a Mayor?

Which led me to consider that under Hellwig's watch the following have cropped up --

  • Mayor Robinson-Briggs had two bodyguards assigned to her personally for over two years from July 2006 to October 2008, allegedly for death threats that Hellwig ultimately admitted were unsubstantiated (see my posts on the bodyguards here, and here). Is it too much to say that episode turns out to have been a fraud perpetrated on the taxpayers, and that the civilian director did nothing to stop it earlier?

  • In June, 2007, when Plainfield attorney Cassell (Sonny) Wood was killed traversing the intersection of Hillside and Putnam Avenues, only the briefest mention was ever made in the media, with no record of a prosecution of the driver of the car which struck Wood's vehicle, though skid marks I measured at more than 125 feet indicated the car was speeding. Nor do we know why there never seemed to be a presentment to the grand jury for a charge of vehicular homicide. Why was that?

  • In 2009, when Hellwig made a PowerPoint presentation to the Council on reorganizing the Police Division, he included a slide indicating that with the Chief of Police position eliminated, under the Public Safety Director (a civilian position), an 'Executive Officer' of the rank of Captain would be appointed to run day-to-day police operations. It is not clear to this day that anyone is permanently appointed to the position (see my post here).

  • Allegations that Director Hellwig used his position of authority to punish police officers involved in reporting on the imbroglio with a male prostitute that involved using police computers on city time to arrange an assignation and using a police vehicle to travel to the alleged assignation (see my posts here, and here), notwithstanding the Director's brief suspension in the matter.
These incidents indicate that simply having a civilian director in place is no guarantee that the office will be executed with independence, without spite, and without fear of a Mayor's disapproval.

Which leaves us pondering whether in its review of the City Charter, the Charter Study Commission can possibly find ways -- through a charter -- to improve the governance of the City.

The search for 'just and capable government' continues.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Bob said...

I thought it was obvious from the beginning that Hellwig was Sharon's lackie. He certainly hasn't made me feel safer. I would prefer having the police chief back. What was wrong with the way things were before Hellwig and before he started using police vehicles for illegal activities. Let's dump him and Sharon!

Anonymous said...

Dan, while a civilian director may seem to have its benefits it is a position appointed by the Mayor. Therefore he/she is subject to the likes of the Mayor. While a police chief and fire chief come up through the ranks and in my opinion has a better understanding of their respective departments.

Anonymous said...

Even now the Mayor and Green are running the Police Dept. Promoting when we don't have money in budget for it, and not letting the Captains do their jobs. We need to bring back a Chief to run the Police Dept.

Anonymous said...

Dan, How much of the tax payers money has the Mayor and Hellwig coast the city in Lawsuits? What happened to her body guards who were always taking days off and not reporting them and getting paid overtime? Didn't one get caught stealing funds? I cant wait till the new mayor takes office and cleans out all the rats in the city!

Siddeeq said...

Dan, Well stated and factual. However, there are more layers on this onion that need to be peeled away. Time will tell.

Anonymous said...

I heard a Supervisor told officers to do their jobs and they ran to Mayor and complained and try to get the Supervisor in trouble and to back off.
Oh and then she created new sergeants positions and made 4 unnecessary promotions

Anonymous said...

They ran to the mayor and hellwig again as supervisors are finding they are not doing their jobs. He told them he is going to transfer the supervisor. No support to the supervisors from hellwig now even though he told them to do their job.