The Manchester, MO police chief; politics and an empty office

The Brass Key | August 27, 2010 | Comments (0)

The police chief’s office was bare — not a picture on the wall or so much as a pen on the new cherry desk. The lights were off.

Lt. Tim Walsh’s office is next door. For the past 13 months, he had served as interim chief but hasn’t felt right about moving into the office.

“I’m waiting for them to decide what they are going to do,” Walsh said. “I don’t want to be pushy either.”

He could be waiting for another year.

In the 27 years he’s worked at the Manchester Police Department, Walsh says he tried to avoid political turf wars.

Now he’s in the middle of one.

Last year, the city fired Chief John Connolly. Aldermen still won’t say why, calling it a personnel issue they are forbidden to discuss. Walsh has since served as interim chief.

Mayor David Willson wants to take the interim off Walsh’s title and make it permanent.

Willson says Walsh is beloved by residents and other officers. He lives in Manchester and is intimately familiar with nearly every aspect of the police department.

“The residents love him,” Willson said. “He knows the department. He knows the city.”

But Alderman Bob Tullock, the mayor’s opponent in the past election, along with two other aldermen, have blocked the appointment.

Last week, Willson brought Walsh’s appointment up for vote.

Aldermen Mike Clement, Don Ryan and John Diehl Sr. voted to make Walsh chief. Ordinarily that would have been all Willson needed — three of the board’s six votes and he could break the tie.

But in this case, Aldermen Marilyn Ottenad and Hal Roth voted against it, while Tullock abstained. Because the nomination didn’t get the majority of votes and there was no tie, the nomination couldn’t move forward.

The city’s ordinances stipulate the mayor can’t renominate Walsh for another year. Until then, the only way the board can reconsider the issue is for one of the dissenting board members to bring it back for another vote, aldermen said.

Willson called Tullock’s abstention a “political maneuver” and says Walsh will continue to serve as interim chief. Walsh’s annual salary is roughly $70,000. The new position would have bumped his pay to $85,000.

Tullock said he has nothing against Walsh.

“He’s been a good cop,” he said.

Tullock says he abstained because of his problems with City Attorney Patrick Gunn. Tullock has questions about Walsh’s proposed contract and says he can’t get straight answers from Gunn.

It seems, in part, to stem from another partisan dust-up earlier this year.

In May, alderman held an election for board president.

Alderman Diehl missed the meeting because he was out of town and his flight back was delayed. Three members voted for Tullock for president, with two opposed. Four days after the meeting, Gunn sent a letter to city staff and the board. He argued that Tullock’s election was invalid, saying the entire board needed to be present for the vote. In July, Tullock sued the city.

Tullock has abstained on at least three votes this year and will continue to do so if he has legal concerns.

“If there’s any legal issues I’m unclear on, I will abstain,” he said.

Nearly 50 people applied for the chief’s position.

Roth said he voted no because the board wasn’t able to interview as many applicants as he would have liked.

“I saw 16 resumes, which appeared to be very attractive,” Roth said, adding that the board only interviewed two candidates: Walsh, and an employee of another county police department.

“I still want to know if I’m making the best decision,” Roth said.

Alderman Ottenad said she also thought the board should have talked to more candidates. She also said that six members of the city’s Citizen Emergency Response Team — a volunteer group that helps cities respond to emergencies — asked her to oppose Walsh’s nomination because they were upset over the way he had handled their program.

Before the vote on Walsh’s nomination, the city polled its 39 officers through a secret ballot to see how they felt about Walsh becoming chief. In all, 34 officers voted, with 23 in favor, six opposed and five abstaining.

Resident Dan O’Brien Jr. said the process has been frustrating to watch. Nearly everyone he knows supports Walsh, he said.

He accused Tullock and Roth of holding the city hostage.

Tullock is “like a 2-year old,” O’Brien said. “We are just stymied by all of this.”

Walsh declined to say much about the issues surrounding his appointment.

“There is nothing I can do,” he said, “except come to work in the morning.”

Source: Stephen Deere – St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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