Will Freeport’s Black Community Get Much-Needed Representation On The Police & Fire Commission?

Mayor Jodi Miller says she hopes to have the vacant commission position approved as soon as the August 17th City Council meeting.

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At the start of last week, the Freeport Fire and Police Commission was made up of 4 white males and 1 white female. That was until Freeport Mayor Jodi Miller was informed early in the week that Commission member Tammy Smull Byrnes was resigning.

When asked why Byrnes resigned, Miller stated that she could not share that information but that it was for “personal reasons”.

Miller was unsure if she could share Smull Byrnes’ resignation letter with The Voice, suggesting that we submit a formal request for the letter under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Given the lack of diversity on this commission and many other boards and commissions in Freeport, The Voice asked Mayor Miller if she felt a responsibility to appoint another female or person of color to this commission. We reminded her that one of the stated goals of Freeport’s new Social Justice Committee is to recognize the lack of diversity in city government.

Miller responded, “I have a tendency to look for passion, someone who takes an interest in this type of work and is a team player. Am I open to it? Yes, I have some feelers out.” 

The Board of Police and Fire Commissioners has not always been entirely white.

Until 2019, two members of the board were Black. They had been appointed by previous mayors.

Miller chose to replace these members when their terms were up. When asked why that decision was made as opposed to retaining these 2 members, Miller said “I’m really glad you asked that, no one has actually asked me that before. I actually didn’t know until this Thursday’s (8/6/20) Social Justice meeting that those two members were African American, so ethnicity really didn’t matter to me”.

Mayor Miller said that when she took office, there were about 50 open board and commission seats she needed to fill. She said that she talked to the heads of these boards and commissions to ask how they worked and what they needed to improve. The then-acting chairman of the Police and Fire Commission told her that the board needed “new blood”.

Miller stated that one of the members she replaced had been on the commission since 2008 and that she felt she should “give the opportunity to others in the community who are passionate”, which is why she did not retain that member.

She stated that the second person she replaced had missed 5 out of 7 commission meetings in the second half of 2018, saying “so maybe that’s just not a good fit, I had no idea this person was African American so that had nothing to do with it, I wouldn’t know them if they walked into my office right now”. 

Lastly, Miller stated that she already has someone she hopes to have approved for the vacant commission position by as soon as this Monday’s City Council meeting. This would appear to be in contradiction of her earlier statement of “having feelers out” and being open to appointing a person of color to the job.