The news that the village has reached some sort of settlement with Lt. Steve Johnsen certainly comes as a relief. Though we can’t comment on whether the deal was fair as we don’t know what kind of arrangement was made, it is good news the village will not have to waste substantial time and money on a drawn out hearing process similar to the ongoing Dan Harder ordeal.
What we can comment on is that this entire hyperbolic episode”the confrontation at a village council meeting, the arrest of a local business owner, the charges, countercharges, third party investigation, reports, resolution”is exactly the kind of absurd distraction that Forest Park elected officials have got to move beyond.
While we don’t know what happened in terms of a settlement, we hope that at some point people on all sides of this goofy escapade came to their senses and said, “Enough nonsense. Let’s start to put our police department back together. Let’s keep petty council politics from further polluting public discourse.”
That’s what we hope. More openness from the village might make us actually believe it.
As good news as the settlement is, the village’s secrecy concerning whatever deal was reached is suspect. Officials now say it would be improper to discuss the matter because it’s a personnel issue, and though we typically respect this logic, the village did not have the same reservations when it released a detailed report from a private investigator outlining Johnsen’s alleged violations. We’re glad the village shared that report with us, but wasn’t that a personnel matter as well?
This silly story has been played out publicly from day one, and it seems strange that at this point, after all those involved had their names dragged through the mud, the village now wants to keep things under wraps.
If the village has determined that Johnsen’s actions did not warrant the consequences recommended by a private investigator it hired, which apparently is the case since Johnsen is back at work, the public deserves to know why. The public also deserves to know why it paid for a private investigator whose advice was then disregarded.
Most importantly, the public has a right to know why it paid Johnsen’s salary for three months while he stayed home and the police department went without an experienced lieutenant. If nothing was going to be done, couldn’t nothing have been done sooner?
The village’s silence, it seems, has less to do with a policy not to discuss personnel issues than it does with a desire not to comment on a matter that was fumbled by the village at the expense of taxpayers.
If mistakes were made and an already messy situation got out of hand, or if it was simply determined that prosecuting Johnsen wasn’t worth the cost at this time, the village should be candid with residents and explain what happened. This might cause some embarrassment for the officials involved, but it’s still a much better look than pleading the Fifth.