A large crowd of residents and police gathered at the Collegedale Commission meeting Monday night to hear or be heard about problems that have taken place recently surrounding the city’s police department.
During an investigation by the TBI of an alleged quota system of the Collegedale Police Department, three officers participated in the investigation and later lost their jobs. Proper explanation and documentation of the cause for firing them had not been made and attorneys for the three claim it was retaliation for cooperating in the TBI probe. They were let go on Sept. 6.
That makes eight officers who have either left or been terminated, one eighth of the police force including one fourth of the patrol division, said Commissioner Ethan White. Since January 2019, 42 percent of the department has left, he said. Additionally, the canine division has been dissolved with no one qualified to manage it.
On the night of Sept. 8, Commissioner White said that David Bartow, director of Collegedale Tomorrow, feared being seen on surveillance cameras at The Commons with himself, David Shilling, who had just been fired, and another couple. And he said he believed that a police officer was watching them from a white Explorer which left and went to city hall when the five left the park, the same account given to the commissioners by Matthew Sadler. This was interpreted as intimidation. We need to consider the health of the police department so that employees do not fear retaliation, he said. We need to be transparent and acknowledge the problems and find solutions.
Mr. Bartow said that it is not the director of Collegedale Tomorrow’s job to be dragged into politics. He said he just did not want to be videoed that night talking to the five people because the reason might have been misconstrued. The officer driving the Explorer told the commissioners that he was just driving through the park that night then came to city hall to use the rest room.
Commissioner Phil Garver said there are always two sides to the story and he told the audience that he had done a random study of 18 officers, or 72 percent of the police department. He got nothing but positive comments such as, “It’s the best place I’ve ever worked” and “I’ve never had a more caring boss.” He said that he would continue talking to employees and collecting data, but that today he is convinced that Collegedale is in the hands of good people and that he supports Police Chief Brian Hickman and City Manager Ted Rogers.
There is a protocol to follow, said Commissioner Debbie Baker. She wants to know what is in the reports that will be coming from the TBI and from an MTAS evaluation of the city that has been requested by Mayor Katie Lamb. Those two reports will help the commissioners understand what can be done to make things better. She said the city needs to get the facts and act appropriately.
Vice Mayor Tim Johnson said he believes there are three sides to everything, yours, mine and the truth. He said he has no problem with firing a city manager if he has a reason, but he does not believe that Ted Rogers has done anything wrong. He too wants to wait and see the results of the two studies that are being done. He said the police department has had a lot of turnover and that people have left for other positions after Collegedale spent a lot of money schooling and training them. He suggested reinstating Tonya Sadler as public information officer and would like to see a citizen advisory committee to review police complaints and to look into policies and procedures of the department. He wants the police officers to have a voice. His hope is that the commissioners will begin to work with the city manager again and hire an arbitrator to talk about how to get the city back on track, and that “we will all act like grown-ups.”
Mayor Lamb said contrary to media reports of her trying to stall this meeting about controversy in the police department, she did not. She said she had concerns with the open meeting act. She said that the commissioners will be shown the two reports when they are received and decisions should not be made until they are seen. MTAS is also sending information forms for commissioners to fill out about the city manager. She said the study by MTAS will show what the city is doing good and where improvements are needed “so that Collegedale will continue to be a wonderful city to raise our families.”
Following the Commission meeting the board met with City Attorney Sam Elliott in a closed-door executive session because of lawsuits against the city. The decision cannot be made tonight, said the mayor, until the two reports are received, but she said "the citizens have the right to know what we’re thinking.”