WATERLOO, Iowa (KWWL)- Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart said he has complete confidence in the city's Police Chief Joe Fitzgerald Thursday.
"He has done an incredible job while he is here, and I have no doubt he will continue to do an incredible job while in the city," Hart said.
His remarks came amid criticism of the department and its chief, fueled by a recent social media post.
The post, captioned "sad day," depicted Waterloo police cars that had the old griffin image removed, following a decision by the city council to change the logo after complaints about the image's racist connotations.
In April, the Waterloo Police Protective Association, representing current and former WPD officers, said it was strongly against both final designs of the final designs approved by the Police Rebranding Committee.
"They are used to dealing with victims and dealing with other people's problems but know the Waterloo Police Department and the retirees, especially the retirees who have worn that patch longer than anyone down there has. We are the victims," Cedar Valley Back the Blue Chairman and Former Waterloo Police Officer Lynn Moller said. "That is why you get demoralized. That is why tensions get high. You go from bad to being upset over what people are doing to you."
Moller was a member of the Waterloo Police force for 35 years. He said tensions within the department are high and morale is low, given the removal of the griffin from uniforms and cars.
"They have gone from the proud cops we were in 75, the 80s up until present to nobody standing behind us," Moller said.
Moller said Waterloo officers are frustrated by certain policies, including having their days off canceled and not being allowed inside the station to write reports.
He said Chief Fitzgerald's job search, less than a year into his time in Waterloo, does not help the morale.
Hart pointed to an independent report done in 2015 that identified morale issues within the department and said he believes it is not fair to blame Fitzgerald completely for them.
On Thursday, Austin affiliate KVUE-TV and the Statesman reported Fitzgerald is hoping to be the new Chief of police in Austin, Texas.
Fitzgerald has been confirmed as a candidate for multiple other chief jobs around the country since arriving in Waterloo last year.
"If your intentions are not to be here very long, thank you for your help so far," Moller said. "If you are going to move on, move on."
Sources told KWWL Fitzgerald traveled back to Texas on Monday, and sources say he will be there for the rest of this week and likely most of next week.
Hart said Fitzgerald asked him to travel back to Texas and spend time with his family, and he approved it.
"Yes, this is a high-profile position," Hart said. "We need to check ourselves and make sure we don't set ourselves up with a double standard."
Just like every other city employee, Hart said Fitzgerald is entitled to take a vacation. Hart added that nobody knows about a health situation in the Fitzgerald family. He said the chief is still participating and working remotely in some capacity from Texas.
"I have never seen a person who wants to go and visit his family and people who do not even know the health condition of his children and family," Hart said. "I have never seen so much malintent for him to do that."
Hart has full confidence in the Chief. He pointed to police reforms and $200,000 worth of new training he implemented in the department. Those included procedural justice training, implicit bias training, and training focusing on excessive force.
Both Hart and Moller praised Fitzgerald for his role in calming tensions with protesters following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. He spent hours discussing racial and community issues with protesters at Lincoln Park.
"All of the initiatives you have seen and the fighting you have seen amongst communities to make important policy changes, we were able to do that here under his leadership," Hart said.
City Council member Margret Klein called on Fitzgerald to resign Thursday. She is running for mayor against Hart.
"We are in a time of real turmoil for our police department, and we need someone who is hands-on and who is invested in Waterloo who is going to live here with us," Klein said. "Who is going to share the burden with us, and who understands us."
Klein said it is clear Chief Fitzgerald has no interest in staying in Waterloo, and his trips out of town are a "slap in the face" to taxpayers.