Last Wednesday evening I found myself in the lower meeting room of Village Hall staring at the south wall where pictures of Forest Park mayors are hung, many, to my Monk-like frustration, crooked. I also found myself staring at the rainbow colored zigzag like pattern of the carpeting. Occasionally I would let my eyes become unfocused and the pattern would become psychedelic allowing me to transport myself to Woodstock. However, one Mr. Patrick Lucansky would repeatedly snap me out of my fantasy.
Who is Patrick Lucansky? He is the attorney representing the village in its attempt to fire Sgt. Dan Harder from the police department. I was attending the termination hearing and Lucansky was frequently objecting to remarks made by his opponent Jeanine Stevens who is representing Harder in this matter. They would argue back and forth in hopes that Police & Fire Board attorney Charles Hervas would rule in their favor. At these hearings Hervas is acting in the capacity of “judge” ruling on issues like admissibility of evidence and how witnesses are questioned.
You would think that such a hot topic in the village being played out before my eyes would have me riveted. Unfortunately this is not like courtrooms on television where there is dramatic testimony and Perry Mason not only exonerates his client but also uncovers the real murderer who is always conveniently in the courtroom. This hearing is drawn out, tedious, filled with foul language, and has no end in sight. As it currently stands, after eight hours of testimony, the village has rested its case and the defense will begin to tell its version of the truth on December 1st.
After blurring my vision on the carpeting several times during the hearing I began to feel sorry for the board members, Amy Rita, Glen Garlisch, and Brad Zandstra. While I had the freedom to let my mind wander, these three board members were forced to listen in silence and at least maintain the illusion that they are hanging on every word, knowing that Harder’s fate rests in their hands. No way can they yawn, scratch their nose for any length of time, or munch on a snack. That needs to change.
First let me recap where the case is so far. One of the charges is that Sgt. Harder swore at a fellow officer. Not much is debated about this. He did. It has also been established that swearing is a frequent occurrence at the FPPD, as well as probably most other workplaces in the country. In a monastery, Harder would find himself in hot water over this issue. In Forest Park it looks like a ‘pile on’ charge, designed to add volume to the other charges. The village should have already dropped the silliness on this but hasn’t.
Harder has also been accused of abusing the sick day policy. The number of sick days Harder has taken seems to change by the day, displaying an embarrassing lack of controls by the village on employee’s time off. If they can’t get Harder’s correct, knowing they are heading into a showdown, how can we be sure they have an accurate total of anyone else’s. Harder’s attorney also was able to show that village policy on handling sick days, was ignored or forgotten, and that others had taken more sick time than Harder during various periods of time without issue. To the village’s attorney: all the fancy charts in the world can’t help you on this. Drop this charge.
That leaves the only legitimate question the board must attempt to answer; did Harder lie to his boss, Chief Ryan, as to his whereabouts on June 10 and if he did, does this offense warrant termination. So why are we looking at another 8 ” 10 hours of useless debate and semantics? Because the wheels of justice turn slowly and lawyers hourly fees stack up continuously.
It’s now time for the board members to take charge. Let them ask the questions. Let them look witnesses in the eyes, rather than a profile, and determine who is telling the truth and who isn’t. Let them decide what evidence they want to examine.
I’m sure that my idea clashes with some state law, village policy, or Bob’s Rules of Order. Those controlling mechanisms apply to legitimate issues and disputes, not the silly circus that this hearing has become. It’s unfair to the participants, as well as the public, to watch the board members sit silently, go into closed session after the lawyers are done feeding at the trough, and then come back to give us their decision without any clue as to how they arrived at that decision. It’s time for Rita, Garlish, and Zandstra to step in and take control, cut to the chase, and stop the insanity.