Mayoral candidate Chris Harris sent village commissioner candidate Joe Byrnes a private email on March 2 in which Harris seemed to offer Byrnes the job of chief of police should Harris be elected mayor. Current Police Chief Jim Ryan is retiring in May.
“I don’t want to bring up a sore subject from the past but a few years later this still seems like a position you could handle and excel at,” Harris wrote in the email to Byrnes which was obtained by the Forest Park Review. “And if you’re not interested I would love to talk to you about what you think is best. You obviously have invaluable knowledge here.”
Byrnes, who is running for village commissioner on a slate with incumbent mayor Anthony Calderone, had been acting chief of police when he was passed over for the permanent position by Calderone 16 years ago. Byrnes said that he found the email from Harris strange and was offended by it.
“This letter is not right,” said Byrnes. “If I am elected I would be village commissioner when I am offered a job as the chief of police. That doesn’t make sense to me at all. I’ve been away from the police department for 16 years. I am running for village commissioner.”
Harris, who is currently a village commissioner, says that he was not offering the police chief job, which requires approval by the village council, to Byrnes. He said that he was merely saying that, if he gets elected mayor, he would like Byrnes to lead the search for a new police chief.
“I think the person that should lead the search would be Joe Byrnes, who has more knowledge of the history of the department,” Harris said. “I would take anything that he said under great consideration. If he came back and said he thought he was the best person for the job I think that would be a conversation that if I were mayor and the other commissioners would definitely consider.”
Harris said that he would like the Forest Park police department to switch to a more community policing approach.
“I’m not saying anything negative about Chief Ryan, but the one thing I think we’re lacking is more community policing, more interaction with the community, more getting out of the cars and actually just talking to a group of people, having a conversation, not when there is something going on, but becoming a part of the community again,” Harris said. “If you talk to people in town everyone would say that’s the kind of cop Joe Byrnes was.”
In an subsequent email sent to Byrnes and copied to the Forest Park Review which was sent after the Review questioned Harris about the original email, Harris made clear he was not offering the chief’s job to Byrnes should Harris be elected mayor.
“I do want to make it abundantly clear that this was not an offer of the chief job if I am elected – but you should certainly lead the team to find the next chief and if you came back with your name on the list I think the council should certainly consider it,” Harris wrote.
Byrnes, 68, made clear he wants to be a village commissioner, not the police chief.
“That chief of police job is probably over $100,000 a year and a commissioner gets $10,000, near as I can figure, I’d rather be commissioner,” Byrnes said. “I’ve been away from police work for 16 years, security work for the last six or seven (years). I think that there’s very qualified people out there to be the new chief.”
Harris says that he supports Byrnes for village commissioner and recently hand delivered a $20 check for Friends of Joe Byrnes to Byrnes. In an automated phone call this week Harris also advertised that Byrnes was invited to a Harris meet-and-greet at Axcan on March 5.
Byrnes said that doesn’t want to be associated with Harris’s campaign and wants Harris to stop trying to do so. Byrnes said that he never had plans to attend Harris’s meet-and-greet.
“I had no intentions of going anyplace,” Byrnes said. “I’m on with Mayor Calderone; I’m not on with the person running for mayor against him.”
Harris said that he invited Byrnes and Rachell Entler, another village commissioner on the Calderone slate, to his meet-and-greet. Harris denied that his email was an attempt to get Byrnes to support him in the mayor’s race.
“Joe’s part of a slate,” Harris said. “Joe’s not going to come out and certainly publically support me. I’m not expecting it.”
Calderone, for his part, had little to say about the email.
“Joe shared that with me in confidence and I think I’m just going to leave it at that,” Calderone said. “That’s between those two and not me. I’ll just say I find it to be a little awkward.”
Harris said that he was disappointed that the email became public.
“It wasn’t sent from my village email address, it was sent from my personal email address so it’s not like it was a FOIAble document, it was a private exchange of information so I guess I’m a little disappointed that Joe went around sharing that with people, but I wanted to have a conversation with him,” Harris said.
This story has been changed to correct the stated purpose of Commissioner Chris Harris’ event at Axcan on March 5. The event was a candidate meet-and-greet, not a fundraiser.