Proposed change to how Middletown police, fire chiefs are hired draws opposition

A proposed city charter change would allow Middletown’s city manager to seek external candidates when hiring a police or fire chief. Opponents to the proposed change say Middletown Fire Chief Paul Lolli (left) and Police Chief Rodney Muterspaw (right) have both been promoted through the ranks, something that allows them to know their departments well.

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A proposed city charter change would allow Middletown’s city manager to seek external candidates when hiring a police or fire chief. Opponents to the proposed change say Middletown Fire Chief Paul Lolli (left) and Police Chief Rodney Muterspaw (right) have both been promoted through the ranks, something that allows them to know their departments well.

A proposed change to how Middletown hires its police and fire chiefs is drawing opposition from some.

The possible city charter change would allow the city manager to seek external candidates when hiring a police or fire chief, according to Les Landen, special counsel for the city. Currently, the police and fire chiefs have civil service protections and come up through the ranks of their respective departments.

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“We have a system in place and it’s proven,” said Ross Green, who spoke for the city’s IAFF Local 336 fire union. “Why fix something if it’s not broken?”

Green noted that Middletown Police Chief Rodney Muterspaw and Fire Chief Paul Lolli have both been promoted through the ranks, something that allows them to know their departments well.

Both men, he said, are also invested in the community because they have raised their families here.

Middletown Police Officer Jason Wargo, vice president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 36 that represents officers, said his membership does not see the need for this proposal.

Officers know their leaders have a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t because of their experience in various positions with the department, he said.

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Middletown voters have seen this proposal before and rejected it in 1990. The city’s charter review committee also previously recommended the proposal in 2000 and 2009, but council declined to place it on the ballot in both of those elections.

Middletown resident Wanda Glover, who was a member of the 2009 charter review committee, praised the work of both chiefs and said the proposed change would impede upward advancement for police officers and firefighters because there would be nothing to aspire to.

The charter review committee reviewed 11 proposed amendments and is recommending eight to City Council. They are:

  • Removing references to wards from the charter
  • Eliminating placing a copy of the city's annual report at the public library
  • Eliminating the need for council's advise and consent on the appointment of employees
  • Organizational structure of the city to be determined by the city manager
  • Placing the police and fire chiefs in unclassified service
  • Replace newspaper publication with electronic media
  • Removing the Civil Service Commission and Park Board from the charter
  • Changing the review of the city charter from every 10 years to every five years

The charter review committee is not recommending the following proposals:

  • Reducing the number of council meetings each month
  • Right to work amendment
  • Mandatory allocation of income tax revenues

Council will give final consideration of the charter proposals and has the option to approve, deny or suggest additional charter amendments at its June 19 meeting.

The proposed charter amendments that are approved will be placed on the Nov. 6 general election ballot for voters to decide.

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