Don Barber

Don Barber

BRADLEY — Bradley Mayor Pro Tem Mike Watson may pick a political ally on Monday as the new police chief, replacing Chief Michael Johnston, who has turned in his resignation.

In an interview Sunday, Watson said the village is looking at Don Barber, a member of the village board, and Deputy Police Chief Craig Anderson for the police chief's position. He said the police department's command staff was given an opportunity for interviews. 

The board is expected to go along with Watson's choice because all but one of its members belong to the Progressive Citizens Party. Both Watson and Barber are Progressive Citizens members. 

Watson said he and Johnston talked about the situation a month ago and that they were working toward an "amicable transition." The mayor said the chief makes about $135,000 a year and that his replacement would not make that much. 

In an interview Saturday, Barber said he had turned in his letter of resignation in the last week, though he did not remember which day. He declined to release the letter.

"I do not have the letter, but the village does, so if you want it, please contact them," he said in a later text message.

In Illinois, public officials are barred from from using their positions for personal gain.

The village has not announced Barber's resignation and he is still listed as a trustee on the village's website. Further, the agenda for Monday's board meeting, which was completed Friday night, indicates Barber is giving a report on public safety in his role as trustee.

Michael Johnston

Michael Johnston

The agenda is vague about what is going to happen to the police chief's position. After a closed session, the board is expected to discuss an item labeled as "resignation of trustee," without identifying which one. After that, the board is to take up "mayor appointment," presumably the police chief, but the agenda does not say.

Barber, who is currently Aroma Park's police chief, said he expected to be appointed police chief, but he stressed he has not accepted the job yet. Aroma Park Mayor Brian Stump said he was expecting Barber to become Bradley's new police chief.

In interviews on Saturday, Trustee Bob Redmond, the lone Democrat on the board, said he thought Barber was still a trustee, while Trustee Darren Westphal said he wasn't "100 percent sure."

Redmond said he was told the village interviewed three police chief applicants, including Barber. Redmond said he wasn't sure how the village got three applicants for a position that hadn't been advertised.

Barber, who worked as a Bradley police officer for three decades retiring as a sergeant, said he had a talk with village officials about the job, "but it wasn't an interview." It was unclear whether Barber was interviewed while he was still a trustee. He declined to discuss the timeline.

"People will raise an issue regardless, and unless I accept a position, it is a moot issue," Barber said in a text message.

The Daily Journal filed a public records request for Barber's resignation letter on Saturday.

Watson said he would fill Barber's position quickly. He said Barber's replacement does not have to be a Progressive Citizens member. 

PROCESS 'NOT FAIR'

In an interview, Johnston, the chief since May 2016, said he turned in his letter of resignation in mid-July, about two and a half months after Watson took the helm.

He said he wanted to refrain from commenting on many of the issues involving his departure while he was still chief.

Johnston said he had wanted his last day to be Sept. 16, which was his anniversary date. But he said he believed Barber would be appointed right away and that he would move to a lieutenant's position until he leaves.

"My going back to the rank of lieutenant is not fair," Johnston said. "I have an impeccable service record. I've never been suspended. I wanted to leave with the title of chief on my anniversary date."

Johnston said his original intent had been to leave in 2021. He has been with the Bradley Police Department for 23 years. Before that, he was with the local Army National Guard for seven years, six of them full time.

In late July, the Daily Journal reported that Johnston submitted papers for his retirement, though it was unclear when he would leave. At the time, both Johnston and Watson declined to comment.

Johnston turned 50 in July, meaning he would be eligible for retirement.

'TALK TO THE MAYOR'

Redmond said Barber is highly qualified to serve as chief.

"He worked for the village police department for many years," he said. "As far as being a member of the board and then resigning to take the position, I'm not going to comment on that."

But he said it may not look good to the public.

"Those are questions that needed to be answered by the mayor pro tem. The Progressive Citizens Party prides itself on transparency," Redmond said.

Asked about the situation, Trustee Westphal, who joined the board in April, said the Daily Journal needed "to talk to the mayor for sure."

In late April, Watson became mayor pro tem after the sudden resignation of Democratic Mayor Bruce Adams, who cited health issues.

The Progressive Citizens-dominated board decided to keep Village Administrator Catherine Wojnarowski and Finance Director Rob Romo, both Adams appointees.

But under Watson, the board fired IT Director Chuck Elliot and decided against renewing interim Fire Chief Jim Eggert’s contract for another six months. 

The expected appointment of Barber resembles a situation last October in the Kankakee School District.

SIMILAR SITUATIONS

At a meeting, the board voted to appoint Karen Johnston, who had resigned as the board's vice president just days before, to take the newly created position of transportation director. The board did this even though some members expressed concern that the decision may give the perception that members had a leg up in the hiring process.

Before her appointment, Johnston was a personal banker at a Manteno bank.

In 1979, then-Bradley Mayor Glenn Mulligan encouraged the board to create a new position of village administrator. He also voted in favor of offering the position to himself, according to court documents.

But he resigned at a village board meeting before accepting the job. An appeals court in 1985 invalidated the contract, saying it was unenforceable because it violated conflict of interest laws.

In Barber's case, while he may have been interviewed while a trustee, he will no longer be in the position if he is voted in Monday.

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