OUR VIEW: Huron chief firing raises questions about public employeesA controversy is brewing in Huron, where the police chief is out of work and the mayor faces the possibility of a recall election later this summer.
By: Editorial board, The Daily Republic
A controversy is brewing in Huron, where the police chief is out of work and the mayor faces the possibility of a recall election later this summer.
Doug Schmitt, police chief in Huron since 1999 and an officer since 1977, resigned under pressure in March after making statements to a legislative committee in Pierre. Invited by lawmakers to speak, Schmitt took a vacation day to drive to Pierre. He wore street clothes and told the committee he was representing himself, and not the city of Huron.
The subject — illegal immigrants — was a touchy one. At the time, the Legislature was debating whether to make it illegal for South Dakota businesses to knowingly employ workers who are in this country illegally. The bill later was defeated.
Schmitt told the committee that illegal immigrants create problems, but he didn’t specifically name Huron employers. He noted that in 2010 alone, Huron police arrested 79 people for other crimes who were determined to be living in Huron illegally.
When Schmitt returned to his Huron office, he was put on suspension. He later resigned rather than undergo a disciplinary process, and two months after that, the mayor behind it — David McGirr — has become the focus of the controversy.
There are three issues at play here.
First, it appears Schmitt didn’t say anything lawmakers couldn’t have figured out on their own by checking public records in Huron. And it’s true that Huron does have a growing population of immigrants, although there’s nothing wrong with that as long as they are living in this state via the proper legal means.
Second, even though Schmitt didn’t name any businesses in his testimony to the Legislature, we suspect most people in Huron know which businesses he was referencing, and that’s probably why city officials felt his testimony was improper. He came close to publicly accusing local businesspeople of criminal activity, without much in the way of proof.
Also at issue is Schmitt’s testimony in the first place. Does a paid public servant have the right to speak publicly about work without the consent of his employer? A vacation day is not a free pass from the rules regarding personal conduct that govern places of work.
Many businesses have rules addressing this. If Huron doesn’t have this language in its handbook for city employees, we suspect it will be inserted soon. We also suspect other cities in the state will be considering adding the language, too.
Schmitt erred if he didn’t seek permission in advance of his testimony. If he did seek permission, there would be no reason to discipline him.
That Huron law officers made 79 arrests of illegal immigrants in one year alone indicates there is a problem. Schmitt didn’t lie or exaggerate to the legislative committee.
It sounds to us that, although he could have used a bit more discretion, he simply stated the facts about the immigration situation in his hometown.
If Huron officials are sensitive about such statistics, they should work to improve them. It seems that’s what Schmitt was doing.