Tuesday, May 08, 2007
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Lincoln mayor announces resignation of police chief          Send a link to a friend

Erlenbush appointed interim chief

Announcement of police chief resignation, the reasons for his resignation, the search for a new chief and the interim chief  [MP3 file] (almost 30 minutes)

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[May 08, 2007]  Monday evening the city of Lincoln began its fiscal year and annual reorganization, which includes appointment or reappointment of department heads. When it came time to discuss the city police chief position, Mayor Beth Davis breathed deep and began, "As you know, this has been a very difficult situation in this last year."

She said she was going to take some time and read through some of her notes. "I feel I have to explain some of these things," she said.

In May of 2006, Logan County State's Attorney Timothy J. Huyett issued a memorandum to the mayor concerning issues he had with the police department. The mayor first shared that information with Police Chief Robert Rawlins and city attorney Bill Bates.

Davis said that they determined to hire a professional to look into each of the alleged discrepancies and suggested needs for improvement. They looked for someone unbiased, well-versed in police affairs and with the temperament to withstand the controversy if media caught the memorandum prior to the issues being addressed.

In executive session in November, eight of 10 members of the city council were apprised of the memorandum and the plan for how to address it.

In December the council approved hiring a consultant. Stuart Erlenbush, a retired Illinois state policeman with strong drug enforcement and internal affairs experience, homeland security background, and membership on the Illinois Terrorism Task Force, was hired to do an internal audit of the police department.

Eight days after Erlenbush was hired, a news media made the contents of the confidential memorandum public. The mayor said that the release of that information led to "a public relations nightmare." It caused a chain reaction felt in City Hall, the police department, the city of Lincoln, all across Illinois and several states beyond.

The mayor said that Rawlins first gave her his resignation on Nov. 27, but she would not accept it at that time. He was part of the situation, not the source of the situation by any means, she said. She asked the chief to see it through to a final report, and he agreed, next tendering his resignation effective April 30.

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The council determined then that it would be best to look for the new administrator from outside the department, and a search began, looking all across Illinois.

To look outside the department is against general policy of the city, as it is recognized that bringing an outsider in creates a number if undesired effects: extensive workload, steep learning curve, potential animosity, and lack of cooperation and brain drain within the department.

The mayor said that she had a thought that was a long shot. She asked Erlenbush if he would take the position as interim. She said she knew this to be "not conventional." But she looked at all the factors, including that he knew the officers, he's worked with the state's attorney, he pinpointed the 19 areas of correction, and he could help continue the search for a new chief.

Erlenbush lives nine miles outside Lincoln, meeting the 10-mile rule.

When she asked, he flat-out refused. Eventually he did agree to a one-year interim position, effective immediately.

There were two objectors on the council. Alderman Benny Huskins advocated that he believed in choosing from the department. Alderman Verl Prather, who works in corrections, questioned his own feelings of how ethical or appropriate it would be to hire someone who did an internal investigation. Both men agreed to the capabilities and qualities that Erlenbush possesses and has demonstrated.

The mayor said she believes that Erlenbush would gain back the respect the police department deserves. He just wants to see this department sparkle, she said. He possesses the knowledge to improve our department's standards, address the state attorney and bring back respectability to the city, county and state, she said.

[Jan Youngquist]

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