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Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2006 02:39 pm

Sgt. Jones

New police union head wins long fight for promotion

Sgt. Al Jones
Photo by Dusty Rhodes

It looked like most other officer-promotion ceremonies: a gathering of friends, family, and fellow officers in Springfield Police Chief Don Kliment’s spacious office, cookies and punch waiting in the conference room to the side. After a brief recap of patrolman Alan Jones’ law-enforcement career, Kliment shook hands with his newest sergeant and invited Jones’ wife to pin a gold badge to her husband’s shirt.

“This is usually the highlight of the event,” Kliment quipped.

The real drama, however, had taken place in the preceding days. Jones, who is also president of the patrol union — Police Benevolent and Protective Association Unit 5 — had fought to force the city of Springfield to credit him for “veterans’ points” that moved him up several notches on the promotional list.

Jones served in the United States Marine Corps, 1977 through 1981. His service didn’t qualify for veterans’ points because he was not in the military during a time of armed conflict. However, in August 2005, the Illinois General Assembly amended state municipal code to remove the distinction between periods of conflict and peacetime, specifying that points should be awarded to all veterans “whose names appear on existing promotional eligible registers or any promotional eligible register that may hereafter be created.”

In October 2006, the Springfield City Council adopted that same amendment without discussion on the consent agenda of a regular council meeting. In November city officials sent letters to promotional candidates notifying them of this change.

Jones had enough points to move immediately to the top of the promotion list, but when he asked the civil-service office to add his points, he received a letter stating that the change was “not retroactive and cannot be applied to a list that has already been certified” by the commission.

Jones’ attorney, James Baker, sent the Civil Service Commission a complaint pointing out that the ordinance specified that the change applies to “existing promotional registers.” On Dec. 11, Jones met with a city attorney and appeared before the Civil Service Commission. The next morning, Jones says, a deputy chief called to tell him to be in Kliment’s office at 11 a.m. on Dec. 14 to receive his new badge.

This wasn’t Jones’ first fight for promotion. He had been the next officer in line on a sergeants’ list that expired in 2004. Jones was not promoted, despite the fact that there was an opening for a sergeant. The union contract does not compel the police chief to fill all vacant supervisory positions, but Jones filed a lawsuit against Kliment, claiming that he was denied promotion because of reverse discrimination.

Citing that ongoing litigation, Kliment can’t comment freely on Jones’ promotion, but he notes that Jones’ promotion came at a time when the department doesn’t need another sergeant. “I was advised by the city legal department that I had to promote him, even though I didn’t have an opening,” Kliment says. “I followed what the law said, and I’m OK with that.”

However, there may be more litigation between the two.

“The way Mr. Baker and I perceive it, the law took effect in August 2006,” Jones says. “There have been six people promoted since then that I would have been ahead of. I don’t see any reason not to get back pay and seniority.”

In fact, two of those six officers were promoted to sergeant Dec. 4, after Jones had already asked the civil-service office to recalculate his veterans’ points.

“They were well aware of the situation,” Jones says, “and Kliment went ahead and promoted the other two without promoting me.”

Contact Dusty Rhodes at drhodes@illinoistimes.com.

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