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Waynesville debates who can remove city police chief if needed

WAYNESVILLE, Mo. (Oct. 15, 2015) — Police Chief Dan Cordova now has an indefinite appointment to head the Waynesville Police Department and won’t have to be reappointed for two-year terms, but questions on how he should be removed if needed caused concern for at least two councilmen at Thursday night’s Waynesville City Council meeting.

Having a two-year term of office for the police chief is unusual, and dates back to the earlier history of Waynesville when the city still elected a town marshal. According to retired Waynesville Police Chief Don McCulloch, the two-year term originated decades ago as a way that the city council could decide every two years whether the city wanted to have the same person serving as police chief who the voters had elected as city marshal. Waynesville long ago abolished the elected positon of city marshal, but the two-year term remained in place for the police chief.

Councilman Mike France asked why the new ordinance says the city administrator, rather than the full city council, has the authority to remove the police chief.

While emphasizing that he “wouldn’t arbitrarily fire anyone for no legitimate reason,” City Administrator Bruce Harrill said supervision of city staff and department heads is part of his job.

“If something happened you may not always have the occasion to pull a meeting together. There are provisions to appeal,” Harrill said. “If you wanted to overrule that decision, I wouldn’t do something unwise, I could even suspend him.”

That answer didn’t satisfy France.

“I like checks and balances,” France said.

Harrill and City Attorney Ralph Muxlow both said checks and balances already exist in the city code. Harrill referred France to Chaper 116 of the city code, which he said “gives different provisions” for appeals. Muxlow noted that while the city administrator can act between council meetings, “the mayor and city council have ultimate authority to hire and fire.”

Those answers didn’t satisfy Councilman Alan Clark, who was previously the St. Robert City Administrator until a disputed vote of the council of that city which led to a court case which Clark appealed all the way to the Missouri Supreme Court.

Clark said that according to Missouri state statutes, the mayor appoints subject to approval by the city council, and if the council wants to remove an official with the concurrence of the mayor it requires only a simple majority, but to remove without consent of the mayor requires a two-thirds majority.

“My read of this is an appointed official does not have the authority to remove another appointed official,” Clark said. “Now suspension would be a whole different deal.”

Harrill said he’s spoken to other city leaders and believes the new system will work well.

“In cities that try to run all personnel actions through the mayor and city council, in my talks with other cities, it’s kind of awkward,” Harrill said.

Mayor Luge Hardman cautioned that the new process doesn’t reflect any dissatisfaction with Cordova.

“Again, we’ve been through this a couple of times,” Hardman said. “I need to make clear our discussion here has nothing to do with the chief of police, we just need to make sure the wording is right.”

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