There’s no such thing as a sure bet, but we’re comfortable with the prediction that Lt. Steve Johnsen’s termination hearing will drag on in a fashion similar to that of his colleague, Sgt. Dan Harder. It is equally assured that Johnsen will not get a fair shake before the Fire and Police Commission.
Certainly everyone is wise to defense attorney Jeanine Steven’s tactics of trying to use the village’s own legal bills to hang itself. Stevens just completed a year-long hearings process as Harder’s legal representative and now Johnsen’s time before the commission is off to a slow and expensive start. But commission Chairwoman Amy Rita was too quick in congratulating herself on her ability to ignore clearly prejudicial factors, and announce her steadfast commitment to fairness.
Stevens made it abundantly clear that she intends to call Rita as a witness in the hearings. It’s expected that she will ask Rita about two conversations that she was either directly involved in or may have overheard.
Imagine a trial judge stepping down from the bench, removing the black robe and taking the witness stand. Now imagine that same judge putting the robe back on to deliver a ruling. Absolutely, positively preposterous.
Furthermore, as the publisher of the Forest Park Post, Rita’s revenue stream is dependent on advertising sold to area businesses. We know this because here at the Review, we too, are largely dependent on advertising revenue to keep us afloat. It’s how newspapers work.
The problem in Rita’s case is that as the publisher, she is the direct beneficiary of advertising revenue, some of it from active participants in this case. It’s true that everyone on a newspaper’s staff benefits from advertising revenue, but none so directly as the salesperson and the employer themselves. This financial interest alone makes two things clear: 1. there is reasonable cause to believe her judgment may be swayed unfairly and 2. those responsible for a newspaper’s editorial content must be discriminating in their civic involvement.
It should be noted that one member of the three-member commission has already stepped down with respect to Johnsen’s hearing. Glenn Garlisch rightly recognized that his service alongside Johnsen on the board of education clearly presents the potential for conflict. The conundrum here is that for Johnsen to even have a hearing the remaining two members must be present. We can’t help but wonder if the Fire and Police Commission had alternate members whether Rita could have been forced to step aside.
This bizarre and unfortunate situation isn’t without its silver lining, at least from Johnsen’s perspective. Though the village’s hearing will likely take some time, Johnsen appears to have an open-and-shut case for an appeal.
In the Oct. 4 issue of the Review, our Hometown feature incorrectly identified one of the couples profiled. Early Hawley is a white male. His partner, Tim Gordon is bi-racial.
That same story was written by Tom Holmes and was incorrectly credited to another writer. The Forest Park Review regrets the error.