“Personnel matters” often is a convenient excuse for public officials to refuse to comment on hirings, firings and related situations. Frequently, they are advised by attorneys to keep their mouths shut, for fear of lawsuits.
What is happening in Weirton cries out for an explanation, however.
Last Tuesday, Weirton City Council members met behind closed doors to discuss what to do about a vacancy in the office of police chief. Then they went back into an open session before the public, at which Mayor Harold Miller nominated police department Sgt. Gerard Spencer for the chief’s job.
No one on council moved to accept Miller’s nomination.
That was despite the mayor’s enthusiastic recommendation of Spencer. “It’s a shame council felt differently,” Miller commented later.
Miller was not Gerard’s only fan. During Tuesday’s meeting, nine people spoke in favor of him. “That really speaks volumes to his support,” said Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 84 Vice President Troy Bickers.
So does the fact that some in the crowd booed council. Among those so upset they walked out of the meeting were several Weirton police officers.
“I don’t care if he’s blue, pink or whatever, he’s a damn good officer,” the Rev. Rudy McAllister of Mt. Olive Baptist Church said of Spencer.
Oh, did we neglect to mention that Spencer is African-American? That had he been named to head the police department, he would have been its first chief of that race?
It would be wrong to accuse council members of basing their decision on racial grounds — though some in Weirton already believe that was the problem with Spencer.
Perhaps council members had other reasons for not supporting him.
Somehow, why no one on council moved to make Spencer the chief needs to be explained.
Residents of the city — all of them — deserve answers regarding Spencer. “Personnel matter” simply won’t work as a brush-off.
Tension over law enforcement and African-Americans has exploded — literally, sometimes — throughout the nation. That kind of angry racial tension must not be permitted to come to Weirton.
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