Scott Reeder: So hard to fire a bad public employee

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Fox Lake Police Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz

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I couldn’t help but shake my head when I read the latest about police Lt. Joe Gliniewicz.

He was the Fox Lake cop who apparently tried to make his own suicide look like a heroic line-of-duty death.

Investigators now say he was stealing from the Explorer Post the department operated. Text messages sent by Gliniewicz before his suicide indicate he was terrified of being found out.

When I first read of the findings, I leaned back and waited.

A cascade of problems inevitably was going to pour out of his personnel file.

And that cascade soon followed.

And, no, I’m not psychic.

OPINION Follow at @scottreeder


I’ve covered government for nearly 30 years. I’ve seen this play acted out before.

A problem employee finally does something that can’t be ignored and departmental embarrassment ensues.

Administrators, co-workers and just about everyone else scuttles around covering their butts and saying, “He never really was all that good of an employee, anyway.”

These problem employees come in all shapes and sizes.

Sometimes it’s a cop. Other times it’s a teacher. And still other times it’s some person stuck away in an anonymous post in the bureaucracy doing nothing but causing problems.

Let’s face it, we have an accountability crisis in local and state government.

Look no further than the Gliniewicz case.

During his long and disreputable career he was suspended no fewer than five times for violating 10 department policies.

Some of the violations were relatively “minor” like calling in sick when he really wasn’t.

I hate to break it to the workplace scofflaws out there, but folks who do this are liars and thieves.

They not only lied to their supervisor but stole from their employer. And, in Gliniewicz’s case, that’s the taxpayers.

Isn’t it reassuring to know that someone who was stealing from us was also entrusted with enforcing the law?

Of course that violation is picayune compared to some of the others.

According to the Associated Press, Gliniewicz was punished for threatening a colleague. In another violation he was found passed out in the driver’s seat of his personal vehicle, “with the engine running full throttle with his foot on the gas.” In a  third case, commanders accused him of leaving a crime scene unattended.

How does someone with a work record like this not only hang on to their job but move ahead?

Gliniewicz was a lieutenant.

He was a leader — but also it turns out a liar, a thief, a bully and a coward.

Talk about mucking up and moving up.

It’s hard to fire a government worker. Really hard.

Its even harder to fire a unionized government worker.

About a decade ago, I looked at how much it costs local Illinois school districts in legal fees to fire a tenured teacher. The number exceeded $219,000.

I don’t believe it’s gotten cheaper since.

Government labor unions will tell you they don’t protect problem workers, they just advocate for the employees’ “due process” rights.


Do you really think workers sit around in the breakroom and say, “I sure hope Sally’s due process rights are protected?” Nah, they say, “I sure hope she doesn’t lose her job.”

And that’s a major concern when unions in government become overly powerful.

While Gliniewicz certainly is not emblematic of all government employees, his ability to retain his job despite his record is troublesome.

Those who work for government should be held to the same workplace standards as those who do not.

From janitors to judges to the highest executive office, no one should be guaranteed a job for life regardless of unacceptable performance or conduct.

Scott Reeder is a columnist with Illinois News Network, a project of the Illinois Policy Institute.


Follow Scott Reeder on Twitter at: @scottreeder


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