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NORTHFIELD VILLAGE –– After failing to get a majority on Council to confirm his appointment of Police Sgt. John Zolgus as chief of police, Mayor Jesse Nehez has instead named Zolgus “officer in charge” of the department.
Nehez told the News Leader he named Zolgus officer in charge “indefinitely” effective midnight March 1. While there was no official vote by Council, Nehez said communication between the Council and himself indicated there would not be the required two-thirds support in favor of his police chief appointment as the charter dictates. In the event of a split vote by Council, the mayor cannot break the tie vote to appoint a department head.
Nehez said he eventually plans to appoint a police chief, but has no time frame for doing so and said his officer in charge appointment is to give Zolgus a chance to prove himself.
“He doesn’t have to prove it to me, I already believe he can do the job. He has to prove it to Council,” Nehez said. “Council won’t even give this man a chance.”
Law Director Brad Bryan told the News Leader there is nothing in the village’s charter that limits the time the police chief post may remain vacant and added the mayor is permitted to appoint any officer in charge he would like.
Lt. Jamie Mackie, who’s been with the department since 1994, has served as second in charge of the department for nine years until last fall when Nehez made him officer in charge after the departure of former Police Chief Mark Wentz. Mackie had been one of three “finalists” for the police chief post.
Mackie did immediately not return a phone call seeking comment.
Nehez said Mackie has not done anything wrong, but believes Zolgus shares his mindset and vision for the department.
During the Feb. 22 Council meeting Nehez expressed disappointment regarding the inability to appoint a police chief due to an unfavorable response by Village Council members.
Zolgus started as a part-timer with the department in 1993 and went full-time in 1997.
“I am grateful for the opportunity to be given a chance to prove myself,” Zolgus told the News Leader March 1.
Zolgus added he is frustrated to not have all of Council’s support but said “it is what it is for now.”
Zolgus said he will be focusing on staffing as one part-time officer is leaving for a position in Kent and another part-time position is vacant after officer Erica Gregg was promoted to fill a full-time vacancy left by officer Fred Jones’ recent retirement.
The third and final candidate for the post was Cleveland Heights Police Captain Geoffrey Barnard. Barnard worked for the Cleveland Heights Police Department since 1988, according to his resumé. His stated accomplishments include implementing a records software system, scheduling for nearly 130 police and civilian personnel, and creating a policies and procedures manual for the department. He attended the Cleveland Heights Police Academy.
Council members Jennifer Domzalski and Gary Vojtush did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
Councilor Jim Daugherty said he has nothing against Zolgus but feels Mackie and Barnard were more qualified.
“Don’t get me wrong, I like John, John is a friend of mine,” he said. “I just don’t understand how, when you have two other candidates who are more qualified in my eyes to do the job, how you go with someone less qualified. It boggles my mind.
“I think he is choosing friendship over qualifications. You cannot honestly look me in the eye and tell me John is more qualified than a captain of another department or has more qualifications than (Mackie) who, has been left in charge everytime the chief went out of town over the years.”
Councilor Renell Noack expressed confidence in the mayor’s decision.
“I’m very excited about the appointment of John Zolgus and believe that he will do the village proud,” Noack said. “He has some wonderful ideas that I’d like to help him implement and am there to support him and the mayor on this next chapter.”
Councilor Alan Hipps said he feels the decision of who should run the police department is up to the mayor and Council’s role is just to confirm the appointment.
“I would hope Council can come together to approve the mayor’s decision,” Hipps said. “Ultimately he is the one who has to work with him daily.”
Council President Nick Magistrelli echoed Hipps’ comments adding he believes the decision to place Zolgus in charge will “work out fine.”
“I think the department will run just fine,” he said. “We were very fortunate to have two inside candidates apply, and these are two men who have worked together for a very long time.”
Magistrelli added Council needs to turn their focus to other village business including upcoming road projects and potential projects regarding the Hard Rock Rocksino and move forward.
Briana Barker: 330-541-9432