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Milton chief might return

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Stacy Vogel
January 10, 2008
— The Milton Police Commission’s decision not to hire an interim chief is actually meant to be a short-term situation until it can find out if Chief Tom Gilland will return as permanent chief, the commission said Wednesday.

If Gilland were rehired, he would receive his monthly pension payment plus wages as chief but no benefits, said Barry Hinton, a specialist with the Wisconsin Department of Employee Trust Funds. The city would not make further payments into his retirement account.


The city has been considering rehiring Gilland as one of several options since Gilland announced his retirement Dec. 5, City Administrator Todd Schmidt said.


According to rules from the Wisconsin Retirement System, the city can’t come to an agreement with Gilland about a return for 30 days after his retirement date, which was Monday. With that possibility in mind, the commission did not want to hire an interim chief that might only serve for a month, according to a news release issued Wednesday.


The police commission decided in closed session Jan. 3 not to name an interim chief. Instead, the department’s two sergeants are running day-to-day operations and reporting to a commission member, David Ostrowski.


“We felt it would not be efficient or productive to appoint an interim chief for a potentially short period of time and create two separate adjustment periods for the department staff unless absolutely necessary,” Chairman Steve Tupper said in the release.


The city has considered several options for a new police chief, including rehiring Gilland, Schmidt said. Schmidt has solicited bids from private consulting firms to aid in a possible search, and the city offered the job of interim chief to former Chief Terry Hawkins.


Hawkins declined to accept the position under terms offered by the city council.


“I think it’s fair to say that upon the chief announcing his retirement, that one of the options the city and the police commission knew was available to them was the option of rehiring Gilland,” Schmidt said.


Schmidt declined to say if Gilland has expressed interest in the position of permanent chief or if the city has asked him if he’s interested.


“Based on what I know about Tom, his dedication to the city and his relationships with staff at the department, I have reason to believe he would seriously consider the option of being rehired by the city,” he said.


Gilland declined to comment this morning.


Decision legal?

Meanwhile, the police commission’s Jan. 3 decision to appoint Ostrowski as a liaison between the commission and the department might not be legal, some lawyers said.


According to state statute, police and fire commissions have the right to appoint chiefs, set employment standards, and suspend, discipline, fire or lay off officers.


A police or fire commission can also be granted optional powers through a voter referendum. Those powers include the right “to organize and supervise the fire and police departments and to prescribe rules and regulations for their control and management.”


Milton does not have the optional powers, City Attorney Mike Haas said.


“That’s a legitimate question, whether the board is attempting to use supervisory powers that it hasn’t been granted,” said David Moore, a Janesville attorney specializing in municipal law.


Specifically, Moore wondered if the commission has the right to invest authority in one of its members.


“If the commission is delegating authority to him to make decisions, as opposed to merely serving as a liaison … then there might be a problem,” he said.


But Curt Witynski, assistant director of the Wisconsin League of Municipalities, said he didn’t see a problem with the commission’s action as long as the commission isn’t running day-to-day operations.


“It’s almost like the commissioner … is serving as the de facto police chief without getting paid,” he said. “It seems like a practical way to approach things.”


Haas believes the situation is appropriate on a short-term basis, he said.


“The commission’s intent is not to interfere with the department’s operations, but provide somebody that those supervisors can go to to handle issues that are outside their authority,” he said.



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