I am writing to address the story in last Friday’s online edition of the Forest Park Review. A private letter I wrote to Joe Byrnes, seeking his counsel on the upcoming vacancy for the position of police chief was released. This is not much of story, as far as I’m concerned, but I want to address a few misconceptions.
I have the utmost respect for Joe Byrnes; I nominated Joe to be on the Recreation Board and currently serve on the board with him. I also serve in Kiwanis with Joe. It is not uncommon for us to have a conversation. I signed his campaign nominating petitions months ago and told him I would support him — and I reiterated that when I saw him last week, even though he decided to run as part of the mayor’s slate. Sometimes we need to rise above the “us vs. them” mentality that has become all too prevalent in this town.
I believe in being proactive and seeking community input for major decisions. I believe in seeking the counsel of people who know the issues.
There is a vacancy for police chief facing the next mayor in May. Presumably, the mayor is having thoughts and discussions about how to fill that position. Surprisingly, there is no official search committee for this upcoming key vacancy.
I believe good ideas can come from anywhere, including political opponents. And I believe that jobs should go to the best qualified people regardless of whether they call themselves political allies or friends. I sent Joe an email to talk about Chief Ryan retiring because I respect his knowledge and experience. I’ll be the first to admit it was worded poorly.
I am in favor of what is termed “community policing,” and I think Joe was a great example of that before it even had a name. I would like to see more respect for Forest Park police, as well as engagement from the police with citizens: getting out of the car, having conversations, getting to know the residents they serve. As many people will tell you, Joe has a long history of that from his time on the force and beyond.
It saddens me that we, as a town, have become so political that our inclination is to assume political machinations versus two people just having a conversation. But the way village hall has been run for almost two decades, I can’t blame anyone. But we can do better. My record shows that my focus is on making village hall a place where all voices are heard and fresh ideas are respected. I’m interested in bringing people to the table regardless of who they’re aligned with.
Chris Harris is the commissioner of Public Property. He is running for mayor in the April 7 election.