Across Indiana, mayors of 2nd class cities (the comparable role referenced in Reorganization Resolution 2014-11 for our Town’s mayor) have the power to appoint the Chief of Police and the Chief of the Fire Department. The mayor also has the reciprocal power to remove them from their Chief’s position and reassign them to their previous position or their merit rank.
After coming into office, I worked with the Town Council leadership at the time to talk through my desire to evaluate the Town’s management team. One position I looked at was the Superintendent of Parks and Recreation. This position is unique as it is governed by state statute which places appointment and discharge responsibilities in the Parks Board. Upon my request, and working in coordination with my office, the Parks Board evaluated employee and management concerns which confirmed a need to search for a new Superintendent of Parks and Recreation.
Regarding the status of the former Chief of Police, when I won the election, it was communicated to me by Town Council leadership that the Chief of Police planned to retire in the first quarter of 2020. After spending more time in my role, I decided that the best course of action for selecting our next Chief of Police would be to have an open and transparent process. My choice was to actively engage Town Council leadership to participate in that search process, in addition to trusted and experienced advisors. I put full trust in this team to review resumes, interview candidates and ultimately produce their top finalists for me to consider. And they were excellent choices.
After several conversations and reviewing all the materials these finalists had provided, I appointed Chief Spears to serve as our current Chief of Police. The process resulted in an excellent leader and advocate for our community in this time, and I’m grateful and proud of the collaboration with Town Council to make this happen. Chief Spears has been an incredible leader and advocate for our community and our police officers. And our current Superintendent of Parks and Recreation is another huge win for our community. The morale in the Parks Department has dramatically improved. And the momentum and activity taking place in our parks system would not have happened had I not insisted that we consider a change. This was not easy for the Parks Board, but they understood the challenges facing the department. They listened to the parks staff and together we worked toward a management change.
In working to appoint the new Chief of Police and Superintendent of Parks and Recreation, I worked in collaboration with Town Council and the Parks Board. Recently, I asked Town Council to support my decision to demote the Fire Chief to his previous rank within the department. I did not ask Town Council to remove or fire him. However, on March 15, the agenda item voted on by Town Council was “consideration of approval for mayor to discharge a department head.” According to Black’s Law Dictionary, discharge means to fire an employee. Again, I had asked for Town Council to support my intention to demote or revert the chief to his merit rank.
I have attempted to manage this process in a thoughtful and private manner. There has been a considerable amount of misinformation being posted on social media. I want to be clear in communicating the actions leading up to my request to the Town Council while respecting HR matters.
For nearly a year I have fielded and documented concerns from our Zionsville firefighters and external public safety leaders regarding the Fire Chief’s management style and intergovernmental cooperation. In discussing this with the Fire Chief, I shared what I expected from him as a leader in this administration. There were several times that I provided one-on-one counsel to him, as well as a written summary of my concerns. Even with this counsel and working together on a restructuring of the department, I did not see a change. A confidential survey was administered in the Fire Department by an external business partner that further confirmed that we had leadership issues. Follow-up interviews with nearly 30 stakeholders detailed their concerns. Town Council spent several hours with administration leadership and the director of human resources reviewing the results of the surveys and interviews. Firefighters were connected directly with Town Councilors when Councilors asked to speak to them independently of the director of human resources.
Some in the community are upset, confused or frustrated. I understand this and accept the criticism directed at me. This decision has not been taken lightly. It comes after nearly a year of thorough assessments that determined a change in leadership provides the best opportunity to build a stronger organization and retain talent.
I have the highest expectations for Zionsville’s leadership. When a person serves in a leadership role, their actions are a sign to all of their employees as to what is considered the highest level of compassion, skill and leadership. Department leaders should be ready to identify and support employees who are struggling with core leadership capabilities… and to look for a way to improve that situation. In order to carry out this tenant of a leadership position, they need to demonstrate that they also have this capability.
I believe our articles of governance allow for a mayor to pick their administrative team. While I am disappointed that the Town Council does not agree that new leadership at ZFD is in the best interest of the department and the Town, my top priority is, and will always be public safety.