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Thursday, Oct. 9, 2003 02:07 pm

An issue of fairness

The chief draws fire for turning down promotion requests

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Chief Don Kliment: "It's a no-win situation."
Ginny Lee

In June, when Don Kliment was named chief of the Springfield Police Department, questions about how his appointment would be perceived by black officers in the racially-charged agency were quickly calmed by members of the Black Guardians Association. Lt. Rickey Davis, vice president of the BGA, in particular spoke out in support of Kliment, saying he and the chief have a bond that dates back to the years they were partners, patrolling the John Hay Homes together.

Last week, that bond was tested when Davis went to Kliment seeking a favor for his friend, BGA president Ralph Harris. Harris, a 25-year veteran of the force, is third on the promotional list for sergeants -- a list with an expiration date of Oct. 5, 2003. Davis went to Kliment days before this date asking Kliment to consider extending the list so that Harris -- as well as a white female officer who is high on the list -- could potentially be promoted, thereby diversifying the currently all-white-male roster of sergeants.

Kliment said no, opting to allow this list to expire and promising a new round of testing soon.

"It's a no-win situation," he says. "I realize we don't have any minority sergeants at the present time. They've all been promoted to lieutenant and assistant chief, so they're in the upper management of the department. My goal is to get a new test that would allow 15 more minorities to test for the sergeant rank."

Davis has a different perspective, pointing out that a new test will cost at least $40,000 (a figure Kliment confirms). "If we extend the list, we can save the city money. And we can, through attrition, promote a black man and a white woman to sergeant," he says.

Courtney Cox, attorney for seven black current and former SPD officers who have filed a race discrimination lawsuit against the city, says he will file a new charge of discrimination on Harris's behalf with the Illinois Department of Human Rights this week.

"We believe this is in retaliation for Ralph Harris's support of fair racial treatment in the police department, his support of [former officer] Renatta Frazier, and his filing of charges of discrimination and a lawsuit against the city," Cox says.

"That's not me," Kliment says. "Ralph's involvement with BGA has nothing to do with it. It's an issue of fairness."

Kliment also turned down a white officer who is ahead of Harris on the list, and who also asked him to extend it. In fact, the two white officers ahead of Harris both attended a civil service commission meeting where the sergeant list was on the agenda.

Neither Harris nor Davis were notified of that meeting, and therefore did not attend.

As for Davis and Kliment, they say they're still friends, even though they've agreed to disagree on this topic.

"This is an opportunity to diversify the sergeants rank," Davis says. "Why let it go by?"

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