Police advancement restrictions will ease

SALEM – A pending agreement will allow city police officers assigned to special duty, such as drug enforcement, to earn promotions in rank and remain in their special assignment position.

The agreement also will allow the police department to fill positions for shift lieutenant or shift sergeant if a vacancy occurs due to the assignment of a sergeant or lieutenant in those positions to special duty.

A proposed ordinance to authorize Mayor John Berlin to enter into the agreement or memorandum of understanding with the Fraternal Order of Police Ohio Labor Council is on the agenda for Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

Berlin said the purpose of the memorandum was to remove obstructions to advancement in the police department, noting that Chief J.T. Panezott passed up several opportunities to advance to the position of lieutenant because he wanted to remain in drug enforcement.

If he had taken the promotion to lieutenant when he scored the highest on the test, he would have had to become a shift commander and left the Columbiana County Drug Task Force or Drug Enforcement Administration.

Sgt. John Scheets, who’s been assigned part-time to the DTF, has been working the rest of his hours as a shift sergeant. Before Panezott became chief last week, he was one of four sergeants in the department, but he was assigned to the DEA full-time. Sgt. Chris Gallo has been reassigned to the DEA position, with recently promoted Sgt. Brent Slider moving into a shift sergeant position. Sgt. Karl Toy is the third shift sergeant.

Plans call for Scheets to go to the DTF full-time, which will open up another sergeant’s position to be filled by a patrolman and allow for the hiring of another patrolman, increasing the total number of officers in the department to 20. Berlin noted the additional position has already been calculated into this year’s budget, which shows a projected deficit of more than $400,000.

“We can’t waste time hiding from the fact that drugs are an issue. I need to protect the people,” Berlin said.

Department numbers have gone from 24 officers to 19 in recent years. The return to a full-time officer on the DTF will increase the number to 20, and the mayor said he is going to hold the line. He said the city needs to have as many police protecting the citizens as possible.

“Cleaning up the problem has a lot to do with having a presence,” he said.

Former Chief Bob Floor, who retired this past Friday, and city Law Director Brooke Zellers worked on the agreement with the spirit of removing obstacles to advancement in the police department, according to Berlin, who said he wanted to rectify the situation.

“This will allow anyone in the department to attain the highest level they can possibly achieve without facing the possibility of having to give up a position on the DTF or a DEA position,” he said.

The exception would be the position of chief. Berlin said Panezott understands that the change won’t help what happened during his career as an officer, but “he’s very happy this will remove what we considered a ceiling on people who chose to do the tough work of drug enforcement.”

Berlin received a copy of the proposed memorandum of understanding from Zellers on Thursday and planned to have both Floor and Panezott review it before providing it to the union president, Slider, to provide to the officers so a decision could be made. Slider said he wasn’t expecting a problem.

When asked whether the department would receive the go-ahead to hire a part-time secretary, Berlin referred to the $400,000 deficit in the city’s general fund budget and said he’s going to have to wait and see what happens in the first quarter of the year.

He said he’ll have city council consider funding the position if they get an indication that the city auditor’s projected deficit is going to be less. The city is expected to end the year in the black due to the carryover of funds from 2012, despite the deficit created by an expectation of having more expenses than revenue, but Berlin said eventually that’s going to catch up with them. There may not be enough carryover in future years to cover a deficit.

The police department lost its full-time secretary to layoff a few years ago. Since then, the chief and the administrative lieutenant have had to shoulder the secretarial work. Floor lobbied last year for the return of a secretary, even if only part-time. An ordinance was approved to eliminate the position of full-time secretary and create the position of part-time secretary, but the position was not funded.