At the Oct. 5 hearing, Johnsen’s attorney Jeanine Stevens unsuccessfully argued for Chairwoman Amy Rita’s disqualification on the grounds that Rita’s relationships with two witnesses are prejudicial, and that the chairwoman herself will be called to testify. Several other motions, including a request for dismissal and a request to suspend Johnsen without pay will be taken up on Oct. 11.
Rita is the publisher of the Forest Park Post and has received advertising revenue from a business owner who is pivotal to the hearings, Stevens argued. Further, Rita’s “financial and/or quid pro quo” relationship with Mayor Anthony Calderone harms Johnsen’s right to a fair hearing, Stevens said.
The mayor is prominently featured in the Post on a regular basis, Stevens argued, and typically in a positive light.
“People don’t get their letter on the first page of every newspaper unless there’s some sort of relationship,” Stevens said.
Rita flatly denied that her relationship with Calderone is prejudicial.
“I understand my duties?and intend to fulfill those duties to the best of my abilities,” Rita said, reading from a prepared statement.
Rita also denied having any knowledge of relevant conversations between village administrators and said it would be frivolous for her to testify.
Rita acknowledged that she was present for conversations between Johnsen, Calderone and Chief Jim Ryan regarding Johnsen’s employment with the department. For one of those conversations, Rita said she did not overhear what was said and that the nature of the other conversation was insignificant.
“Nothing occurred at that meeting of any substance that requires my testimony,” Rita said.
Stevens also argued that Rita has conducted her own inquiry into the incident that prompted the charges against Johnsen. Rita confirmed that she did request a video recording of a council meeting from the Citizens United in Forest Park, but the recording did not contain any relevant information and she never received it.
Had the motion been granted, the Fire and Police Commission would have been unable to conduct Johnsen’s termination hearings. Commission member Glenn Garlisch also serves on the District 91 Board of Education with Johnsen, and has recused himself from the hearings. There are three seats on the Fire and Police Commission and at least two members must be present for a quorum.
The village does not have a provision in place to call for alternates.
Chief Ryan is calling for Johnsen’s dismissal because of the officer’s alleged failure to properly oversee an arrest in July 2005. According to the charges brought by Ryan, Johnsen failed to ensure the arresting officer properly investigated a spat between business owner Jim Shaw and Commissioner Patrick Doolin.
Shaw was arrested for the altercation and has since filed suits against Johnsen, arresting officer Mike Harrison, the village and Doolin.
Johnsen is presently assigned to “desk duty,” according to Ryan, but the chief is requesting that Johnsen be suspended without pay. In his motion, Ryan contends that because Johnsen “intends to delay and extend these proceedings for as long as possible” it is inappropriate for him to receive pay.