By Brandi Makuski
The city of Stevens Point is looking for applicants for its Police and Fire Brigade Commission.
The five-member Citizens Council lost its president last week when long-time member Gary Wescott announced his resignation on December 22, with immediate effect. Wescott’s letter of resignation can be found at the bottom of this article, although no call was returned with a request for additional information.
Interested city dwellers are now asked to apply for the position on the board that elects its own president. The commissioners are appointed by the Stevens Point Joint Council. Applicants must be a resident of the city, at least 18 years of age, and be able to pass a criminal background exam.
You can find the application here.
The city installed the PFC after a successful referendum in the 1930s. The Stevens Point Police and Fire Brigade Commission is an optional body with powers, which means that it acts separately from the city administration and at its sole discretion in all police and fire service matters. The Mayor’s Office and City Council have no control over either department, other than setting the departments’ annual budgets, which are overseen by the council.
The city council appoints a liaison officer to the PFC every year. At press time, the contact person is Councilor Mary Kneebone (District 7).
The PFC had a difficult relationship with the council last year, with Council President Meleesa Johnson (District 5) criticized the Commission in 2020 for failing to inform the Council important matters before being reported by local news outlets. Wescott responded by criticizing Johnson and other council members for failing to attend the PFC public meetings and for not reaching out to him directly for news or concerns.
The Council also came under fire in March with the sudden resignation of Commissioner Ron Carlson. Carlson, who had a month left in his five-year term, said Mayor Mike Wiza told him during a discussion on March 5 that he would not be reappointed to the PFC because he was a white man. Carlson’s position was filled by Denise Mrozek, who had declined all interview requests when she took her place.
Carlson is a retired Stevens Point police officer and was the only member of the commission with direct experience in the emergency services.
Wiza later confirmed Carlson’s remarks by saying, âWhat he said in his resignation letter is true – we have told Erlen very publicly that they do not want middle-aged white men to rule the city. I’m paraphrasing, but I remember Meleesa Johnson, where that was basically the comment. “
Johnson denied such a comment, claiming that Wiza told her over a drink at Guus last year that he would not reappoint any of the current PFC commissioners based on the Council’s desire for more diversity.
The commissioners have a five-year term and usually meet once a month. PFC meetings are currently held through Zoom.
Wescott’s letter follows:
After 25 years in the service of the people of Stevens Point as Mayor, then Police and Fire Brigade Commissioner, I will be stepping down from the Police and Fire Brigade Commission effective today, December 22nd, 2021.
Many people who represent a cross section of our city have stepped forward and invested a lot of time in serving our community with integrity. I am grateful to have known so many professionals. It is always an honor to serve the community that welcomed me after I was discharged from the US Air Force.
Over a period of two years, 1999-2000, I worked with many good people to create and implement emergency medical care for the people of Stevens Point and Portage Counties. The paramedic program offers the highest standard of emergency care. The program saves lives.
The COVID pandemic continues to burden our protection and rescue services. The Commission has focused heavily on ensuring that those who serve our community have excellent training and equipment to protect themselves and the citizens we all serve.
The Police and Fire Brigade Commission supported forward thinking, creativity and collaboration in promoting and promoting many innovative public safety initiatives; including-
* COVID-19 pandemic emergency planning, public reporting
* Early use of police and patrol car cameras, one of the first in WI
* Specialized police training to provide support with mental health problems
* Training and further education for police and fire brigade employees
* Creation of a Veterans Service Officer
* K-9 patrol units
* First state-certified Fire Investigator course in partnership with MidState Technical College and the Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigation
* Establishment of the Fire Training Academy
* Reporting standards for the police and fire brigade exceed the requirements of the federal and state governments
* Relocation of the police headquarters from the basement of the courthouse to a larger facility
* Creation of new positions for fire training officers and fire stations
We can all be proud to be looked after by some of the most highly trained professionals in the country. I would like to thank the former and current commissioners as well as the police and fire service personnel for their commitment. And special thanks to Legal Counsel Attorney Dean Dietrich for his professional legal advice on commission matters.
Gary W. Wescott
Police and Fire Brigade Commissioner 2009-2021
Former Mayor of the City of Stevens Point 1995-2007 and 2014-2015