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After controversy, new Oakwood Hills police chief focuses on future

OAKWOOD HILLS – The village’s new chief of police, Valiza Nash, comes to the area with a decorated past and big plans for the future, but after only a few months on the job, she’s already facing controversy and calls for her department to be disbanded.

Much of the controversy spilled out last month over the hiring of an officer who filed a federal lawsuit against the municipality he previously worked for, but there’s also an online petition circulating among some residents that calls for getting rid of the Oakwood Hills Police Department and having the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office take over.

After spending more than two decades with the North Chicago Police Department, Nash retired as a sergeant and shift commander to accept the chief of police position in Oakwood Hills.

Nash, 51, was interviewed along with two other candidates for the job. The Oakwood Hills Village Board unanimously voted Feb. 7 to appoint Nash to the job.

Village Trustee Kristina Zahorik said she knew Nash personally and didn’t participate in the interview process. However, Zahorik did vote for Nash’s appointment. Trustees Mark Wise and Kerry Leigh were absent from the special meeting and didn’t vote, according to meeting minutes.

Nash replaced part-time Police Chief Peter Goldman, who was involved in a car crash last fall and had not been able to return to his duties. Village President Paul Smith removed Goldman from his position a week before Nash was hired. Nash is the first full-time police chief in many years. She said she will be paid $47,500 a year.

The department has six officers, including Nash. Most of them are part time.

Nash said the department soon will have a full-time police officer after training is completed this summer. Police department spending accounted for about 35 percent of the village’s $737,275 budget, according to Oakwood Hills 2016-17 budget.

Although the move came a few years before Nash planned to retire, she said she couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

“I wasn’t ready for it yet – I wanted at least three more years in North Chicago. … But it came about, and you’ve got to take the opportunities as they come,” she said.

Nash said that although North Chicago is larger than Oakwood Hills, the crimes are not necessarily unique.

“You have the same crimes, it’s just a different zip code … just maybe not as frequent,” she said.

Nash first realized she wanted to get into law enforcement after her brother was accused of a crime he didn’t commit in the late 1970s and she saw firsthand the effects of what bad policing can do to a person.

“I wanted to be a part of stopping that within the law enforcement community,” she said.

Now that she’s getting into to her new position, Nash has some changes to make.

She said she plans to bring the department into the 21st century with updated technology. Through grants and other sources of funding, Nash said she’s looking into body cameras, LiveScan fingerprinting and an updated evidence management system. The department also has started a Facebook page to share what’s going on at the department.

The department will participate in the annual National Night Out event as well as the Law Enforcement Torch Run, and it also plans to start a Citizens Police Academy and Police Explorer program.

Nash said all of these efforts focus around one common goal: community policing.

“It’s going back to the basics. That’s how we know our community and bridge the gap between law enforcement and the community,” she said.

Nash’s tenure hasn’t been without controversy.

Several residents and one Village Board member raised concerns about an officer who has joined the department since Nash was appointed chief. The hiring of the officer, Ramtin Sabet, was the source of some concern at a Village Board meeting in March. During public comments, Joe Fritts, Kurt Hummel, Jeanne Cantrell and John Tuohy expressed concerns about Sabet, according to meeting minutes.

After a discussion about Sabet, including negative comments and positive commendations from his work in North Chicago, the Village Board voted, 4-1, to hire him. Wise cast the only vote in opposition. Trustee Leigh was absent from the meeting.

“Trustee Zahorik added that Mr. Sabet was very upfront about allegations against him and was forthcoming with answers to the committee during the interview, which included specific questions about past incidents,” according to meeting minutes.

Sabet sued the city of North Chicago and its police chiefs in March after being fired from its police department. In the lawsuit, he claims he was harassed for being Muslim, according to media reports.

Nash didn’t participate in Sabet’s interview because they previously had worked together in North Chicago, but she noted her “past positive work experience” with Sabet, according to meeting minutes.

Nash said her interaction with the community thus far has been nothing but positive, despite an online petition that is circulating in Oakwood Hills to encourage the Village Board to eliminate its police department and to come under contract with the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office instead.

“We believe that part-time staff police officers, who do not provide around the clock service on a daily basis, are ineffective and unnecessarily costly. We believe our community deserves a full-time community policing which can be provided by the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office more effectively at a significantly reduced cost,” the petition reads.

The online petition so far has 220 supporters; it’s not clear how many of them live in Oakwood Hills. The change.org petition seeks 500 supporters.

Nash declined to comment on the petition but said she would be open to meet with any residents who have concerns.

“Every community needs peacekeepers, and if you don’t have that, you have chaos,” she said.

McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks, a proponent of governments sharing services, said no one has approached him about having the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office police Oakwood Hills.

Since Nash began her position as chief, at least one officer has resigned. Sgt. John J. Hohol, who had been with the village for close to 12 years, submitted his letter of resignation April 11, citing a hostile work environment and concerns about another officer who also works in the department.

Nash would not comment on Hohol’s resignation, and she said she believes the officers working for the department are happy with the working environment.

“You could talk to every one of my employees and ask them if they are happy and what the morale is here, and they can tell you,” she said. “It’s unfortunate that some people feel otherwise, and you’re not going to make everybody happy.

“I don’t think that it warrants an answer or comment from us. It’s his opinion, and everyone is entitled to their opinion, but that doesn’t mean we have to respond to it.”

• News Editor Brett Rowland contributed to this story.

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