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Editorial: Racine, start over on hiring violence prevention manager and do it legal this time

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Start over.

We don’t recall ever seeing a city hiring process that was so mucked up as Racine’s hiring of City Council president John Tate II to head the newly-created position of violence prevention manager.

The job, which carries a salary of somewhere between $78,000 and $101,000 a year, is to be funded by federal grant money provided by the American Rescue Plan Act, at least through the end of 2023. The purpose of the new position is to bring a public health perspective to the city’s response to crime and violence.

The Racine City Council approved its creation in July. Tate, along with 20 others applied for the job and he was one of three finalists to be interviewed. The city announced his selection a week ago and Tate said he would resign from his position as council president before beginning his new job on Nov. 14.

When the news hit the street, the crap hit the fan. Two former city aldermen, David Maack and CJ Rouse, immediately raised questions over whether it was ethical or even legal for a sitting city official to take a position they had voted to create.

Turns out they were right.

Tate conceded as much a week ago Saturday in a Facebook post, saying, “After the announcement of my intention to resign from the Common Council in order to lead the city’s violence prevention efforts, it was brought to my attention that Wisconsin state statute prohibits sitting local elected officials from taking positions that were created during their term of office. Officials, however are eligible for those same offices once the current term has concluded.”

So where does this leave Tate? Well, he’s not going to resign as council president in November and he will serve out his aldermanic term, which ends in April. He said he would consult with the city attorney “as to what steps may be necessary to satisfy state statute before processing any further with this position. That may include withdrawing from consideration altogether or delaying a start date until after the term has concluded, or something else altogether.”

It boggles the mind. Where, we have to ask, were City Attorney Scott Letteney, Mayor Cory Mason and City Clerk Tara McMenamin, when it came to monitoring this hiring process? Were they really unaware of state law that prohibits sitting officials from taking up city jobs that they had voted to create until their terms had expired?

Tate may well be the most qualified for this new position. But this hiring process has been so dreadful that the only honest, ethical and legal way for the city to proceed is to restart the process, re-open applications and do new interviews.

If the city wants to delay the hiring process until April to give Tate a chance to throw his hat in the ring – again – then so be it.

Start over. And do it legally this time.

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