By Igor Studenkov
For the Bugle
The Park Ridge officials and staff are planning to look at whether the current rules regarding city employees working part-time for other companies are strong enough to avoid conflicts of interest.
During the Oct. 16 City Council meeting, Ald. Marc Mazzuca (6th) raised concerns about Park Ridge Police Department Deputy Chief Lou Jogmen working as an evaluator for Stephen A. Laser Associates, the company that had a contract to evaluate candidates applying to become city police officers and firefighters. While, by that point, the company had withdrawn from the contact, Mazzuca wanted to get more details about what happened and review how the city’s procedures could be modified to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.
During the Oct. 23 Finance and Budget Committee of the Whole meeting, Mazzuca urged the city to suspend Laser Associates from future city contract. But City Manager Joe Gilmoe and City Attorney Julie Tappendorf pushed back, arguing that, because the company withdrew from the contract and there was no actual conflict of interest, there was no ground to suspend Laser. In the end, the aldermen agreed to look at whether they could change the policy to keep this kind of situation from happening in the future.
According to the report provided to the aldermen, in Jan. 1, 2017, Jogmen filed a request for off-duty employment to work with Laser Associates. In keeping with the existing police department procedures Jogmen pledged not to work on evaluations of Park Ridge candidates, and Park Ridge Police Chief Frank Kaminski not seeing any other potential conflicts of interest, approved the request.
In Aug. 24, the city Human Resources staff contacted the Kaminski, telling him that during a candidate evaluation, Jogmen made a comment that, while he wouldn’t be doing the evaluations, Laser Associates did good work. The chief and Gilmore asked Ancel Glink, a law firm that has the city attorney contract, to look if this created any conflict of interest issues. The law firm found that that there was a scenario where Jogmen ‘s off-duty employment could run afoul of the policy: he has access to confidential PRPD employee files, which could be used in pre-employment screenings. Ancel Glink also found that this could become a problem if the city is ever sued for negligent hiring.
“This creates the inference that the city was willing to put citizens at risk by hiring unqualified police officers so that one of our employees can receive financial benefits,” the memo stated.
The memo emphasized that the law firm wasn’t accusing Jogmen of anything, but the very fact that it was a possibly could put the city at risk.
As the result, the city rescinded the permission for secondary employment.
On Sept. 25, Laser Associates sent a letter informing the city that Jogmen has proven to be too valuable of an employee to lose, so they decided to end their contract with the city. Park Ridge selected another contractor, and Jogmen was allowed to work for Laser Associates again.
During the Oct. 23 meeting, Mazzuca, who chairs the Finance and Budget Committee of the Whole, argued that the company should be suspended from bidding for the city contracts.
“we [would] signal to any vendor that might be contemplating such a thing isn’t something we do in Park Ridge,” he said. “This would make it abundantly clear that the playing field is level and it’s perfectly clear that employment has no bearing [on contracts].”
In response to a question from Ald. John Moran (1st), Tapendorff explained that, in her legal opinion, once Laser Associates stopped doing business with Park Ridge, any danger of conflict of interest and legal liability was rendered moot – at least under Council Policy Statement 18 as it’s currently written.
Ald. Roger Shubert (4th) said he wasn’t sure a “casual comment” should have kicked off a legal review. He worried that it would set a bad precedent for other employees, describing it as a “ticking time bomb.”
Addressing Mazzuca’s comments, Gilmore said conflict of interest regulations “could be tightened up,” there was no ground to suspend Laser Associates.
“The question is – what would they do?” he said. “I’m not arguing that this isn’t potential conflict. We addressed the potential conflict, we resolved it, we started audits of all secondary employment.”
Ald. Nicholas Milissis (2nd) agreed that, as the policy is written, there wasn’t anything Gimore could do – which is why he urged the aldermen to figure out a way to tighten the language to prevent something like this from happening in the future.
Ald. Charlie Melidosian (5th) agreed that it was worth discussing what kind of changes the city council can put in place to keep the process “transparent and fair.”
Ald. Marty Joyce (7th) said he was open to tightening the language – but cautioned that issues may still arise.
“In my experience, trying to write an all-encompassing policy that’s trying to cover all scenarious is very challenging and very difficult,” he said. “I have no problem with tightening it up, and writing more solutions. And there would be scenarios in the future that would challenge us again.”
In the end, the aldermen agreed to look into the issue, with Moran saying that there is one factor he watned officials and staff to keep in mind.
“At what point are we losing quality vendors because employees are seeking outside employment?” he asked. “Because that might keep [the city officials] from approving outside employment activity. I feel like that criteria should be part of the decision-making process as well.”