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OPINION - Who's in charge here?

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU)   Wausau’s police chief has been off-the-job for the last month. He’s been hospitalized with a serious illness. He’s back home now and is recovering. He’ll begin working half-days starting tomorrow. Since early October the department’s two captains have been running Wausau PD day-to-day.

Obviously there are many people who’ve known about Jeff Hardel’s condition. Police department staff knew. So did the mayor and other city leaders. But this hasn’t been made public. It should have been.

We’ve had these situations before: now-retired Marathon County sheriff Randy Hoenisch was a no-show at his job for months before it became public. Current Wausau school superintendent Kathleen Williams delayed her arrival in Wausau after she was hired while she had a longer-than-expected recovery after being an organ donor to a family member.

Chief Hardel has a right to privacy; he has a right to keep his medical condition private if he wishes. But when a public official is absent from his job for a long period of time, the public needs to know about it. A simple news release should have disclosed about the leave of absence, how long it’s expected to last, and who’s in charge of the department in the meantime.

This limited level of disclosure makes sense. If there was a violent shoot-em-up in downtown Wausau, that’s the wrong time for the public to find out, oh, by the way, the police chief is in the hospital and has been for the last few weeks. Or if we had a natural disaster – that’s surely not the time to learn that the sheriff has been out-of-town and may not be reachable. What if there was a disaster at the schools? The public should know who is in charge, not thinking that a new hire hasn’t arrived in-town yet.

All of these jobs are important. The people who hold them are the faces of government, and they supposedly have their positions because they are the leaders we want in charge if, God forbid, something happens. When those people aren’t at their posts, we should be told about it.

Chris Conley
11.14.13