There is yet another new twist in the city of Rhinelander's ongoing search for a new police chief.
Last week, a number of city alderpersons as well as members of the police and fire commission had endorsed the idea of holding a joint meeting between the commission and either the city finance committee or the full City Council in the wake of the commission's first choice for the police chief job, Dave Funkhouser of Kiel, turning down the position.
Accusations that the city had disrespected Funkhouser were hurled after he advised Rhinelander mayor Dick Johns he had decided against coming to Rhinelander and members of both groups expressed a desire for all parties to sit down and get on the same page before the commission chooses between the remaining two finalists, interim chief Ron Lueneburg and sheriff's captain Lloyd Gauthier.
However, the River News has now learned that meeting will not be held as finance committee chair Mark Pelletier and council president George Kirby, with input from the mayor, have decided against it.
Pelletier and interim city administrator Keith Kost confirmed the decision Tuesday morning.
Kost said the primary concern is the statutory separation of authority between the commission and the council.
"There are two totally separate functions that are involved," Kost said.
The commission is supposed to make decisions involving the hiring, promotion and discipline of police and fire personnel separate from political concerns, while the elected officials have the authority to determine pay and other benefits.
Kost said the council and finance committee are very nervous about the potential blurring of boundaries that might result if a joint meeting were held.
"The statute sets up specific boundaries that are not to be blended," Kost said. "Police and fire are to select a candidate, they don't have any power of the purse. The council has no selection power, but they set the salary and benefits."
Commission chairman Todd McEldowney said the commission has been informed of the council and finance committee's decision. He said the commission has tentatively scheduled a meeting for May 1 to interview the two finalists and make a selection to be sent to the finance committee.
"They will then determine a compensation package," McEldowney said.
The finance committee is scheduled to meet May 2 and will hopefully finalize the compensation package for the chosen candidate at that time.
If that happens, the full City Council would be able to approve the offer at its May 8 meeting.
"The hope is to get the name to finance, have them meet with the successful candidate that next day and have a chief in place," McEldowney said.
Pelletier said such a timetable is workable, noting there would be enough time between the finance and council meetings to address anything that isn't resolved in closed session at the May 2 meeting.
The city has been working for five months to find a successor to Mike Steffes who left in November to take a job with the Department of Justice.
Before the search got underway, the finance committee set the salary range for the next chief at between $79,000 and $85,500. Several sources have told the River News that Funkhouser was offered a salary in the middle of that range.
In addition to the salary, the benefit package included 40 days of paid time off, full Wisconsin Retirement System benefit and moving expenses in addition to health insurance, dental insurance and life insurance coverage.
Funkhouser withdrew his name from consideration April 11 without making a formal counteroffer.
Jamie Taylor may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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