Former Smithville Police Chief Randy Caplinger has lost his case against the City of Smithville.
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He will neither get his job back or any back pay.
Circuit Court Judge Amy Hollars made attorneys in the case aware of her ruling today (Thursday), fifteen days after holding a hearing in the matter.
At the heart of the case is how many aldermen votes were required to fire the police chief. In May, the council voted by a 3-2 simple majority to uphold Mayor Jimmy Poss' termination of Chief Caplinger based on Article III Section 3.08 of the city charter
Attorneys for Caplinger, Sarah Cripps and Brandon Cox insisted that the city charter called for a super majority (four votes) for such action based on Article III Section 3.01.
But Judge Hollars didn't see it that way.
"Judge Hollars ruled today in favor of the city stating that the provision of the charter that requires only a simple majority, that being provision 3.08 is the provision in firing the police chief," city attorney Vester Parsley told WJLE.
"The judge further ruled that the other provision, Section 3.01 (calling for a super majority) was only for the reorganization of the city government. Therefore the firing of Chief Caplinger was upheld," Parsley continued.
"The Court held that the termination of Chief Caplinger by a simple majority vote of the Smithville Board of Mayor and Aldermen was proper pursuant to Section 3.08 of the Charter of the City of Smithville. Additionally, the Court held that Section 3.08 of the Charter is the controlling provision respecting the personnel actions of promotion, demotion, transfer, suspension, and removal of all employees of the City of Smithville. The Court further held that by voting to terminate Chief Caplinger, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen also voted to approve the less stringent and severe action of Mayor Poss’s suspension of Chief Caplinger on March 13, 2015," wrote Cripps in a prepared statement to WJLE.
After a seven hour due process hearing Friday, May 8 the aldermen voted 3-2 to uphold Mayor Poss' termination of Caplinger. Aldermen Gayla Hendrix, Danny Washer, and Jason Murphy voted in favor of the mayor's action. Aldermen Shawn Jacobs and Josh Miller voted against it.
Cripps and Cox contended that the aldermen violated section 3.08 of the charter in that they failed to convene for a vote to ratify the mayor's unilateral suspension of Caplinger prior to the May 8 due process hearing. This, they claim rendered the suspension of Chief Caplinger null and invalid.
Again, Judge Hollars saw it differently. "What she said there was because the city had a due process hearing it took care of that provision (Section 3.08)," added Parsley.
The attorneys for Caplinger said their client was not an "at will" employee as city officials claimed; that he could only be terminated for "just cause"; and that he could only be removed by the mayor with the approval of at least two thirds (not less than four members) majority vote of the council present and voting upon the removal according to the Smithville City Charter as called for in Section 3.01.
But during the May 8 hearing City Attorney Parsley cited Section 3.08 which calls for only " a majority of the board" to approve removal of employees by the mayor. A majority of the aldermen followed Parsley's recommendation in relying on this section of the charter in voting to uphold Mayor Poss' firing of Caplinger.
Caplinger's attorneys asked that he be allowed to "receive all accrued back pay from March 13, 2015 until the date of the hearing in this cause.
Judge Hollars denied the request.
"As a law enforcement official possessing thirty years of distinguished public service with the Tennessee Highway Patrol and five years of public service as Chief of the Smithville Police Department, Chief Caplinger has the utmost respect for our judicial process. While reasonable minds can differ and disagree as to the interpretation of the ambiguous and conflicting provisions of the Charter of the City of Smithville that were at issue in Chief Caplinger’s case, the Court’s ruling is carefully considered and well-reasoned. At this time, Chief Caplinger is weighing his options concerning how he wishes to move forward in this matter," wrote Cripps.
"Chief Caplinger wishes to express his deep appreciation and gratitude to all of those in our community who have demonstrated their unwavering support for him during the past several months," Cripps concluded.
City Attorney Parsley and Nashville lawyer Mark E. McGrady of Farrar & Bates, LLP represented the City of Smithville in this case.