Although it will be open to the public, supporters of Randy Caplinger will not be afforded an opportunity to speak on his behalf during a due process hearing Friday morning at city hall as the former police chief tries to get his job back. But several took to the podium Monday night during the public comment period to put in a good word for Caplinger during the regular monthly meeting of the Mayor and Board of Aldermen.
Caplinger and his attorneys Sarah Cripps and Brandon Cox will have to convince a majority of the five member board of aldermen Friday morning to reinstate him as police chief after Mayor Jimmy Poss fired him in March.
Local resident Gary Durham was among Caplinger's friends who tried to persuade the aldermen Monday night. "I've known Randy for over 30 years. I've probably talked to 100 people or thereabouts. Not one has said one thing or heard one thing bad about him. Why if this is true (reasons for termination) wasn't it documented and brought forth to the commissioner and chief of police? I ran a business for 30 years. I was in big time management. I've fired a lot of people. You don't do it this way. You bring the person in with all the information and document it. Then you talk to him. If the talk isn't satisfactory, it's up to you to terminate him then. And why is this meeting on Friday morning at ten o'clock when everybody knows there are people working who can't be here. I know we can't speak. But the way this is being done is totally not correct. There is no professionalism in this whatsoever," said Durham
Dr. Hugh Don Cripps praised Caplinger for fostering a good relationship between the police department and the hospital. " I wanted to come up here not to ask the board to do anything for me. I do think it's important for me to say how good the relationship with the hospital was with the entire Smithville Police Department. I don't know specifics about anything but I hope there is more to this than a political witch hunt. I hope we have valid reasons for charging a man who I think the entire community respects. I hope it's more than a Republican/Democrat thing or who is the mayor now or who used to be the mayor because we don't have very many good men in our community who are willing to serve. I have more than just a passing interest in seeing our town do well. I own several buildings and homes in this town and pay a lot of taxes and I have never been about politics in the city and county or the federal elections. I hope you guys will be more upstanding than picking a fuss over things that don't matter in the big scope of things," said Dr. Cripps.
Pat Zornow, operator of a local food pantry, also commended Caplinger ."I operate the local food pantry. Many churches and many people are very supportive of it. Last year we fed over 24,000 people. We fed over 8,000 families here. It's a big operation. Every time we had an issue and we called Randy Caplinger or one of his other police officials they reported immediately. They took care of every issue we have had including break-ins, accidents, and suspected thefts. We've had serious issues with that pantry. Each and every time I needed something he was there and it didn't matter if it was night, day, whatever. You're looking at a good man," said Zornow.
Dr. John Carpenter, minister of the Smithville First United and Bright Hill United Methodist Churches said Caplinger is a man of character. " I consider him a very loyal and respectful and Christ centered individual. I don't know all the charges that are brought against him. I don't know the details. But of his character I can speak and of that I am sure," he said.
Gingie White said she felt Caplinger has not been treated fairly. "I don't know a lot of detail about what's happened with Randy. It did seem an unjust cause to me. Randy is a man of good character. He has served well. I just feel like he has not been done fairly by the board, the elected officials and I just hope that you question yourselves as to whether you did the right thing to Randy or not. It wouldn't matter if it was Randy or someone else. To do the right thing is the right thing and I'm not sure this particular incident was handled properly with Randy. I'm disappointed in the way the board has carried this out," she said.
Mack White admonished the aldermen to do some soul searching on this matter. "Some of you are acquaintances and friends of mine. I respect your decision. I'll be your friend after your decision is completed. But I will make you a promise. I have never had a political sign in my yard but unless I can hear just cause, I will have the opponent of each of you, their sign in my yard come election time. Right is right. You are expected to be ethical and to carry out your work with principle, with respect, and with ethics. My neighbors expect that of me. I do of them. We're a small town. I expect that of you. Search your soul. If you have just cause I support you 100%. Make it public. If you don't you need to back up and do what's right," said White.
Beth Rhody, a friend of Caplinger, also spoke on his behalf." Randy has been a great friend of mine for many years. He is a great, wonderful guy. I hope and pray that with all the good things that has been said about Randy tonight, that when we leave here your conscience would be clear too so that people can say good and just things about you. That you just didn't throw somebody out on a whim. That there was justice done, right or wrong. Look into your own hearts and make sure what you're doing is right so people can say all the good things about you that they have said about Randy," she said.
Caplinger attorney Brandon Cox questioned why the former police chief was not being afforded a hearing before a three person board prior to a due process hearing in front of the entire board of aldermen; why the need for a morning hearing which comes at a time when many spectators are unable to attend; and why City Judge Hilton Conger was not being asked to serve as arbiter of the due process hearing, as attorneys for Caplinger have requested. "On behalf of Chief Caplinger, we would request a hearing before the three person board as is required by city code 42057 prior to conducting a hearing before the full board. We await the reasons why we can't have that hearing," said Cox
"This morning meeting serves only one purpose and that is to hush the public. To keep the public away. If there's a better reason I'd like to hear it. Each regularly scheduled city council meeting, just like this one (Monday night) is held at six p.m. The reason being is for the public to be here to be heard. At ten a.m., people have more obligations. I would ask the board that if you feel so just in your cause to terminate Chief Caplinger, why shy away from public scrutiny?"
" It has been determined that city judge Hilton Conger will not be present at this due process hearing to serve as an arbiter to any issues that arise, evidentiary or otherwise. He has not been contacted by the city. We asked the board to include Judge Conger in this due process hearing," he added.
Cox said the manner in which city officials are handling this case has given rise to mistrust among some members of the public. "This board and the actions in proceeding in this manner on this termination have had a negative impact on the City of Smithville. We too have been approached by a vast majority of the citizens of this great city and they have expressed a concern about the lack of leadership that has been displayed by this board, by the mayor, and all involved. The failure of this body to operate in a transparent and open manner has caused a bit of distrust in this city. As a result, the city has lost confidence in you guys. There's been no effort to this point that I have seen to regain that confidence or to address the issues or concerns that have been raised. In any government, openness and transparency is key. If you lose that, you lose trust. If you lose trust, you lose the people. The people of this city have a right to be here and have a right to be heard. Let them be part of this," said attorney Cox.
In response to Cox concerning a hearing before a three person disciplinary board, City Administrator Hunter Hendrixson explained that the provision which called for that board in a city ordinance was repealed last year and replaced with the new procedure whereby terminated employees now may make an appeal directly to the entire board of aldermen.
Caplinger's due process hearing Friday, May 8 begins at 10:00 a.m. at city hall. WJLE plans LIVE coverage.