City Required To Follow Competitive Examination Process For Police Chief

In the summer of 2004, the Fostoria, Ohio Civil Service Commission terminated the employment of former police chief Dennis Day for misconduct. Following the termination, the Commission conducted a competitive promotional examination for the chief’s position. Two captains within the Department took the examination, with one passing. That individual, Ronnie Hobbs, was promoted to Acting Chief of Police.

When Hobbs declined offers to become permanent chief, the Commission held a meeting to discuss the selection of a permanent chief. During the meeting, pursuant to a petition by the mayor, the Commission suspended the competitive examination process otherwise required by state law. The Ohio Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, a labor organization representing officers within the Department, sued the Commission, alleging that it could not suspend the competitive examination process.

The Ohio Court of Appeals agreed with the Association. The Court found that under state law “extraordinary circumstances” were necessary for the suspension of the usual competitive examination process.

The Commission argued that it met the “extraordinary circumstances” test because of a “leadership crisis” within the Department, citing the fact that the former chief has been terminated for misconduct, two employees had resigned pursuant to domestic disputes, and another employee resigned for reasons regarding criminal charges stemming from a traffic stop.

The Court found the Commission’s justifications wanting: “The Commission itself argued that the Department had several members who were considered qualified to apply for the position of chief. Two officers and one sergeant did apply for the chief position through the application process established by the Commission. Additionally, the testimony of the Acting Chief indicated that the morale of the Department had improved since he took over as Acting Chief and that there was a need for strong leadership in the Department and that there were a number of individuals who are from the existing ranks of officers in the Department who could fill the position.”

The Court concluded that the Commission had not demonstrated the exceptional circumstances necessary to justify a suspension of the competitive examination process.

Ohio Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association v. Fostoria Civil Service Commission, 2006 WL 2337601 (OhioApp. 2006).

This article appears in the December 2006 issue