Smithville Police Chief Richard Jennings says he has been given an ultimatum by city officials to give notice of his retirement by noon today (Monday) or the city council will most likely schedule a special meeting to fire him. That meeting could come as early as this week.
In a prepared statement released to WJLE Sunday night, Chief Jennings gives his account of how the decision to oust him unfolded last week. "On November 2nd, 2009 while in Secretary Treasurer Hunter Hendrixson's office, I received a call from Police Commissioner Aaron Meeks. He told me he was going to place a motion before the Smithville mayor and board of aldermen at the council meeting that night, to fire me. He stated that he was going to make the motion to fire me if I didn't retire. This took me completely by surprise so I did not comment, at that time, to Mr. Meeks. Later that day I called Mr. Meeks, prior to the council meeting. I informed Mr. Meeks I wanted to discuss the possibility of retirement and what his terms entailed. He stated that he would meet with me the following morning, November 3rd, and that he would not bring it up at the meeting that night. But, he stated, if we could not reach an agreement on retirement, he would present the motion at the next board meeting."
"On November 3, 2009, I met with Mr. Meeks and Hunter Hendrixson at City Hall. Mr. Meeks said he had received a call from Mayor Hendrixson and he told him if I decided to retire I needed to write a letter of my retirement intent and turn it in to Hunter Hendrixson that day, November 3 before 5:00 p.m. Also, I needed to state in the letter I would retire November 30, 2009. I informed Mr. Meeks I had not planned to retire before a couple of years. I asked Mr. Meeks what kind of severance package was the city offering for my early retirement? Mr. Meeks asked me what did I want? I informed Mr. Meeks I would consider retiring December 31st, 2009,with a severance package of a full years' salary, insurance and a 3% contribution to my retirement plan, for one year from the date of my retirement. Mr. Meeks asked that I put this in writing along with my retirement letter. I gave the retirement letter with my requests to Hunter Hendrixson November 3 at 5:00 p.m."
"On November 5th, 2009, Mayor Hendrixson asked me to come to his office. Hunter Hendrixson was present. Mayor Hendrixson returned my letter and stated that the city would not give me any type of severance package to retire. He stated that if I chose to retire it must be by November 30th, 2009. Mayor Hendrixson stated he was not sure, and no one had told him, but he thought the majority of the board would vote to fire me. He also went on to say he would like to see me retire and walk out ‘ with my head held high and with the distinction of being the longest serving officer with the Smithville Police Department.' He stated that he needed my decision by 12:00 (Noon) Monday, November 9th. He further stated that he had already been asked to schedule a special meeting for the board of aldermen if my decision was not to retire."
In closing, Chief Jennings wrote, " I appreciate Mayor Hendrixson's advice about retiring but intimidation and threats have never swayed my decisions to do what's right and I do not intend to let that happen now."
"My answer to their ultimatum is...I will not retire."
Six different men have held the position of Police Chief in Smithville since 1994. Jennings, who has been a member of the department for many years, took over from Tom Hopkins as Chief in 1994, after Hopkins resigned. Jennings served until November, 2003 when the city council demoted him to the rank of Lieutenant. Jennings was succeeded by Jim Baker as Chief, but Baker was demoted back to the rank of patrolman in July 2004. Sergeant Sam Dunbar followed Baker as Chief, but Dunbar resigned in January 2006 under a cloud of controversy after being accused of falsifying documents. Augustine (Gus) Clemente was hired to replace Dunbar in March, 2006 but he resigned five months later, accusing city officials of interferring in police operations and making racial slurs against him. Thomas J Stufano was named Chief in November, 2006 and resigned in September, 2007. In October, 2007, the city council gave Jennings his old job back, promoting him from Lieutenant to Chief.
In August 2007, only two months before he became Chief again, Jennings was fired from the department for alleged violations of police department policies and procedures as well as possible violations of state and federal law. He was accused of removing weapons, inventory files, ammunition, and other items from the police department, some of which were allegedly found in his personal possession. The case against him was presented to the city's discipline hearing authority, which is made up of the mayor, police commissioner, and city secretary-treasurer and after hearing the evidence, the vote was 3 to 0 to terminate Jennings.
Later that month, by a vote of 3 to 2, the Board of Aldermen, following a lengthy hearing, overturned the termination of Jennings and returned him to work as Lieutenant. After the vote, Mayor Hendrixson considered casting a veto of the board's reinstatement of Jennings but he chose not to which was met with applause from members of the audience.
In recent months, members of the city council have complained that the police department, even with a larger staff than in previous years, has not done enough to combat the problem of drugs and burglaries in the city. The mayor and aldermen held a workshop with Chief Jennings only a few weeks ago to register their concerns. Jennings says he has been hampered in those investigative efforts by the city administration's decision to cut out overtime pay for officers who would have to undertake undercover drug operations mostly after hours.