Fired for enforcing the law? Almost, for Monona police chief
Written by Becca Habegger, Multimedia Journalist - bio | email
Monona police chief Jane Scott-Quandahl reads police report at Tuesday city council meeting
MONONA (KWWL) -
A local police chief got off with a written warning Tuesday night, after fears her job was on the chopping block.
This is in Monona, where an already-small three-officer police force has dwindled down to a one-officer department. Two officers resigned in the last two months, expressing support for the chief and citing a hostile climate in which the entire police department feels attacked.
This story, however, is about more than just small-town politics. To dismiss it as such would mean sweeping under the rug very real issues that could feasibly face almost any small town in eastern Iowa.
In Monona, it's no secret there's hostility between the police department and several members of the volunteer fire department.
Tension spiked in March, when police chief Jane Scott-Quandahl confiscated hard liquor from the fire department. By city ordinance, only beer and wine coolers are allowed.
Tension spiked again later this year, when the chief enforced an ordinance banning ATVs and golf carts from city streets and decided to do so on the Fourth of July, a day firefighters in Monona traditionally ride the vehicles around town to collect donations.
"I told my officers that day to just, if you see someone on an ATV, just tell them to park it, go home, not to write a citation," Scott-Quandahl said.
Monona mayor Fran Passmore said the chief did nothing illegal.
"The question is not upholding the law. She did uphold the law, but it was in the manner in which she did it. It could've been done at an earlier date," Passmore said Tuesday evening, before Monona's regular city council meeting.
"Would I have given them a couple of weeks? Yeah, I probably could have done that," Scott-Quandahl said later that evening, reflecting on the criticism. "Should I have done that? Probably, morally, yes, but you know, bottom line is I uphold the law. I took an oath, and that's what I do."
The timing of Scott-Quandahl's Fourth of July enforcement decision prompted the council to initiate the first performance evaluation in her nearly 10 years as chief.
"It could've been done two days, two weeks beforehand," Passmore said, adding Scott-Quandahl's timing "caused a lot of problems, it caused a volatile situation."
"I think certain members of the fire department are still beating the drum. I think they're still holding a grudge that their alcohol was taken out of the fire department," Scott-Quandahl said. "I was ordered by mayor Passmore to take it out, which I did, and I think that was the starting point of the whole thing."
Council members decided to establish an ad hoc committee of people not appointed by the mayor or any council member, who would, "review all the facts and work on the relationship between all parties prior to council action on the issue," according to the minutes from the council's Aug. 6 meeting.
"At conclusion of meetings, the [ad hoc] committee would provide the council a summary of what was accomplished," the minutes state.
The committee met first with Scott-Quandahl and then with representatives from the fire department.
Two of Monona's five city council members are volunteer firefighters. One of them, Dan Havlicek, was absent from Tuesday's council meeting. The other, Andy Meyer, abstained from a vote on Scott-Quandahl's performance evaluation.
While the chief's termination was an option, the three voting council members -- Pat Martin, Randee Blietz and Darci Colsch -- agreed with Passmore's recommendation that Scott-Quandahl's enforcement timing decision doesn't merit termination but does deserve a written warning.
Passmore said nothing else in Scott-Quandahl's nine and a half years of service has merited a performance evaluation.
Scott-Quandahl said she believes poor leadership and communication on the part of the mayor and council members have allowed this tension to escalate.
"Come on, council, mayor, let's lead this city," Scott-Quandahl said. "Let's bury it and let's lead."
Passmore, however, said, she doesn't "feel that there's a lack of communication."
She said the two volunteer firefighters on the council have not strong-armed grudge-related issues onto the agenda.
"The members on the council who are on the fire department have not enforced anybody to feel any differently," Passmore said. "As a matter of fact, they've been trying to make good relations with the police department. Does the police department look at it that way? Probably not."
No matter who's to blame, the tension remains.
"When you don't have leadership it just continues to downward spiral, and I'm not sure how to stop it," Scott-Quandahl said. "I will still do my job. I will still hold safety for this community."
Council member Martin said as she voted on Scott-Quandahl's performance evaluation she thinks town gossip is, in part, responsible for the continued circulation of rumors and tension.
A manifestation of the town's tension troubles may lie in its hotly-contested mayoral race. In a city of just 1,500 people, there are five candidates vying for the spot Passmore will vacate, as she is not seeking another term after serving six years as mayor. She said three people are running for two council member seats, one of whom in an incumbent.
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