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Thursday, May 19, 2005 12:00 pm

Last straw

Alderman Frank Edwards, a former fire chief, says psychologist Michael Campion’s evaluations seemed inconsistent: “The people I thought would’ve been squashed, he passed.”

Candidates for Springfield police and firefighter jobs will no longer be screened by Dr. Michael Campion, the psychologist whose conservative views drew criticism from two aldermen. Under a new contract awarded by City Council on Tuesday night, future first-responder job applicants will be screened by St. Louis psychologist Dr. Paul Detrick.

Detrick is director of Florissant Psychological Services and does psychological evaluations for St. Louis-area police departments.

Campion, chief executive officer of Decatur-based Campion, Barrow & Associates, has been testing Springfield police applicants since the 1990s. His objectivity was questioned as early as 1999, when the Springfield branch of the NAACP complained that Campion’s test discriminated against females. The NAACP cited a half-dozen women who achieved high scores on the police department’s written exam, only to be disqualified by Campion.

In 2003, nine applicants to Springfield Fire Department sued the city claiming they were unfairly disqualified by either background checks or Campion’s psychological evaluation. A judge dismissed the suit, ruling that the city could rely on Campion’s test as long as it was applied uniformly.

Then, in August 2004, an article in Illinois Times revealed that Campion leads a group of conservative activists called Illinois Family Institute. The group advocates for religious freedom and opposes abortion, stem cell research, gay marriage, gambling, decriminalization of any illegal drugs, needle exchanges, and civil rights protection for homosexuals.

Campion and his wife, Katherine, have served on the board of directors for IFI since 1999, yet he made no mention of his IFI ties in his résumé or on his firm’s Web site.

For some city council members, this revelation was the final straw. Ward 2 Ald. Frank McNeil says that, as soon as the article appeared, he told Mayor Tim Davlin to find a new psychologist for the police and fire departments.

“I went to Tim and said, ‘Hey, this guy’s gotta go.’ ”McNeil recalls. “He’s out of touch with the mainstream. He has an absolute right to his conservative views, and we have an absolute right to change reviewers.”

Ward 1 Ald. Frank Edwards — former chief of the Springfield Fire Department — examined the psychological tests taken by the nine plaintiffs who had sued the city and couldn’t fathom Campion’s logic.

“The guy’s got no consistency,” Edwards says. “The people I thought would’ve been squashed, he passed. I’m just a novice reading this, but if a guy had a beer, he was out.”

At the time, Campion told Illinois Times that he didn’t list his IFI affiliation because it was irrelevant, and that his personal beliefs didn’t influence his work. “Municipalities hire me because of my qualifications and my expertise, not because of what party I vote for.”

McNeil, however, didn’t believe Campion could be objective.

“I think it’s hard to divorce yourself from your beliefs. To me, that played into his reviews,” McNeil says, “and I think that’s unfortunate. I think a number of recruits may have been unfairly excluded because of his subjective review.”

Research on Detrick found no political affiliations. Aside from his professional work, he appears to enjoy creative writing, and has short pieces about baseball and hummingbirds stored online.

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