By Leigh Morris
For the Star-Gazette
Following the surprise resignation of Police Chief Chris Baer, Beardstown is again searching for a candidate to fill the $51,000-a-year post.
Mayor Steve Patterson confirmed the 26-year-old Baer submitted a letter of resignation after less than a month on the job. The resignation, which was received last week, is effective at the end of this month. The mayor said Baer will continue as “interim” chief until a successor is named.
Patterson said Baer felt the time required to be an effective chief would make it impossible for him to continue his pursuit of a master’s degree. Baer’s classes begin in August. The chief confirmed the mayor’s explanation during a brief conversation on Monday with Star-Gazette Publisher Jody Woltman. However, Baer did not return reporter phone calls for more detailed information.
A Beardstown High School graduate, Baer received a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Illinois-Springfield. Prior to becoming chief, Baer was a night shift patrolman.
Baer officially became chief when a divided City Council confirmed the appointment on June 18. Aldermen Mitch Webster and Leslie Harris voted “no,” while Alderman Bob Burget voted “present.” Alderman J.D. Grafford did not attend the June 18 meeting.
At the time, the council members who did not support the appointment made it clear their concern was the decision to name a chief was being rushed. None expressed any personal concerns.
Looking back on the appointment, Burget said no one on the council really knew much about Baer, who has been a city officer for four years. “I don’t know his qualifications,” Burget said.
When asked why Baer’s pursuit of a master’s degree is an issue now but apparently was not an issue on June 18, Burget responded: “That’s a very good question.”
Baer’s post-graduate work will require him to attend day classes, meaning that he will need to return to working nights.
Stating that he believes a “police chief needs to work days,” Burget said the matter of a interim chief must be discussed with the City Council. The next regular meeting will be Aug. 6. Alderman Tom Penwarden, who voted for Baer’s appointment, echoed Burget’s sentiments, saying the appointment of an interim chief needs to come before the City Council.
Penwarden expressed the hope that the city will find a seasoned police veteran to take the chief’s position. Penwarden, Burget and Patterson were in agreement that a new chief needs to be selected as soon as possible.
Noting the average age of the Beardstown Police Department is about 26, Patterson said, “Maybe I should have named an older guy. Chris didn’t have the life experience (of an older officer).” Nonetheless, Patterson praised Baer’s performance both as a patrolman and as chief, adding that he has a bright future in criminal justice.