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Fallout over fired police chief continues

Geoffrey Ritter
Carbondale Times

 CARBONDALE — Former Carbondale Police Chief Jody O’Guinn says that right after City Manager Kevin Baity fired him, Baity took him to get a gun.

O’Guinn, who was dismissed Aug. 18 after five years as the city's police chief, says he was immediately required to turn over his badge, his city phone and the keys to his city vehicle, effectively leaving him stranded at the Carbondale Civic Center. One other piece of city equipment remained at his home: a city-issued firearm, which O’Guinn had chosen not to use in favor of a weapon he brought with him from his previous law enforcement work in Alton.

Baity drove O’Guinn across town, and O’Guinn said they did not exchange any words throughout the duration of the trip. Once at his home, O’Guinn went inside while Baity waited in his truck. O’Guinn retrieved the weapon from a gun safe inside and brought it outside to Baity. The two shook hands, O’Guinn said, and Baity departed.

Last week, Baity said the firing had nothing to do with a recent series of controversial cases — a notion O’Guinn has contested, saying the only other information he was provided was that his car allegedly had not been seen enough at police headquarters during the most recent 30 days. He added that he “absolutely” felt his termination was the result of the unsolved deaths of Molly Young and Pravin Varughese, in addition to the theft three years ago of his personal handgun, which later turned up as the weapon in a murder.

Councilwoman Jane Adams has turned a critical eye on the firing, saying the city manager has an obligation to deal with employees “in an ethical and moral way” and that the firing could prevent O’Guinn from ever getting another law enforcement job.

In a mass email sent to subscribers, Adams said she and other members of the City Council didn’t learn of City Manager Kevin Baity’s decision until moments before it was made public, and even then, they were given no more than the “confidential matter” explanation formally issued by the city.

Adams acknowledged Baity’s authority over city employment matters but questioned whether the decision was made in the correct way.

“Common decency — not to mention good management and the city’s own disciplinary procedures — require that an employee perceived to be performing poorly be given the opportunity to meet management’s standards,” Adams wrote. “If the problem is one of differing views of the direction of the department, then the department head should be given the opportunity to find another position.”

Adams noted that O’Guinn had not received a performance review in more than two years, and he also received no severance package of any kind following his dismissal.

“As a result of the city manager’s action, Mr. O’Guinn may never be able to get a job in his professional field again. He deserved better,” Adams wrote. “Whatever the narrow legal, or broader political, justification for the City Manager’s actions, this is not the way I want the city to which I’ve given my heart to treat the people who work for us.”

When contacted on Tuesday, Baity said he had no further comment on the issue.

Late last week, O’Guinn said he had filed an appeal of his termination with a city labor board in an attempt to “clear my name." O’Guinn said he has to exhaust all of his options so that he can search for a new job without a cloud hanging over him. 

“If they had a good reason they wanted to dismiss me, I’ll just move on,” he said. “I’ve only tried to do my job.”

Downtown committee has mixed first week

Leah Williams
Carbondale Times

CARBONDALE — Carbondale City Manager Kevin Baity unveiled a slew of ideas during a meeting held last week to help stimulate and beautify the city’s downtown area as well as further incorporate the different industries and communities involved in the area.

The Carbondale Downtown Master Plan Advisory Committee held its inaugural meeting Wednesday, Aug. 20 at the Carbondale Civic Center. The meeting drew an enthusiastic crowd.

Baity presented examples from many different cities that had taken different initiatives to attract people to their downtown areas.

The newly formed, 17-member committee is looking at six areas to explore. Those areas include transportation, signage and streetscapes, business development, interface with downtown areas and with SIU and the hospital, arts and entertainment, and economic civic viability.

The examples in Baity’s presentation coincided with the targets Downtown Committee Chair Jack Langowski had described earlier in the meeting. Some examples included Evansville; Normal, Centralia and Effingham, Ill.; Knoxville, Tenn.; Kent, Ohio; and many others.

One example that particularly stood out was a slide of an old garage that one community had transformed into a restaurant with an outdoor eating area.

“I look out my window and see that every day,” Baity said of the building that formerly held the Yellow Cab Taxi company. “This could easily turn into something much more useful.”

Baity provided several examples from Kent and Normal because both cities host universities and have had scenarios similar to Carbondale.

“They went through a down period like Carbondale,” he said.

Throughout the next several months, the Downtown Master Plan Advisory Committee will have several more meetings to discuss ideas to revitalize the city. The meetings will be held at other locations in Carbondale and are meant to attract varying public opinions about what would be best for the community’s downtown district.

The next meeting will take place at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 3 at the Carbondale Main Street offices in the old train depot. 

Langowski said he hopes to further involve other sectors of the community over the coming months.

“We hope that we can create connectivity between the university and the hospital so that there’s a nice symbiotic flow from both of those ends into the downtown area,” Langowski said.

Each of these meetings discussing the future master plan will focus on a different topic of discussion. Transportation is expected to be the topic of choice at the Carbondale Main Street office, committee members said. The committee then will report its findings to the City Council.​

Despite its grand intentions, last week’s meeting was followed by some complications. Substantial behind-the-scenes debate got underway afterward, with at least one member of the public questioning Langowski and whether he was the best to lead the group.

“Jack has a history of steam rolling meetings, pushing his agenda, making himself seem important and not getting a lot accomplished,” Curtis Conley wrote in an email to the mayor and City Council and obtained by the Times. Conley was further critical that there were no formal introductions made of the committee members, and that substantial time passed at the lengthy public meeting before the public was actually allowed to participate.

“Right now the commission seems like it has a leader that is calling all the shots,” Conley wrote.

In response to that and other criticisms, Langowski wrote to committee members seeking an electronic vote on his leadership.

“I need a vote of confidence or a lack thereof by sending me an e-mail with a copy to everyone else on this committee regarding your desire to stand with me or seek a different leader,” Langowski wrote.

Mayor Don Monty followed up that request with a notification that any such deliberations would have to occur under the governance of the Open Meetings Act.

“I understand Jack’s desire for a response to his message,” Monty wrote. “However, the City has been previously advised that an email message to all or majority of a quorum of members of a government board or committee in which all are requested to reply could constitute a violation of the Open Meetings Act. Based on that information, I am asking that you not reply to the message.”

On Tuesday, Langowski said greater efforts would be made at future meetings to involve attending members of the public and that much of what happened at the first meeting came from a need to deal with initial administrative matters.

He said some disagreement is natural, but ultimately it should not be a distraction from the committee’s long-term goals.

“There will always be a bit of difference in accepting agendas as they are put forward,” Langowski said. “We have to avoid any barriers to making it to the end zone.”

Geoffrey Ritter contributed to this report.