While the focus of our city’s current crisis should be on the well-being of our police officers, I am compelled to respond to some of the allegations that have been publicly made against me by Councilmember Charlie Hensley.
I have broken no laws nor have I committed any of the infractions alleged by Mr. Hensley through my recent or past actions. I am simply doing what is rightfully afforded to me under the City Charter and under the Constitution of the United States of America. More importantly, I am doing what I was elected to do. I campaigned on a platform of accountability, transparency, fiscal responsibility and a promise to give those who lacked representation a voice on City Council.
With regard to process, I concur that council members should make every effort to resolve issues directly with and through the city manager whenever possible. I maintain that I have done this and more within the confines of the Sunshine Law.
I had no direct knowledge of potential issues within the police department until I began assisting the Alex Heitman family. After collecting data for nearly nine months and meeting with Mr. Watson about a related matter, I shared my concerns regarding our treatment of both the Heitmans and Ms. Lori Holt (the mother of Sarah McAdams) in an April 30, 2014 email to city manager Mark Watson. This email was copied to all of council as well as press members who had previously reported on the incidents in question.
On May 2, 2014, I met with Mr. Watson who stated that he had no intention of addressing any of the concerns I shared. Subsequently, I called for an Executive Session that was held on May 15, 2014. Councilmembers Hensley, Hope and myself were the only current councilmembers in attendance. Past members Miller, Beehan, Mosby and Garland were also in attendance. In spite of clear evidence that the families and the press were knowingly and repeatedly provided inaccurate information, the majority of council refused to take any action on the matter.
Since that time, I have received sporadic reports of problems that I could not independently verify through official channels. I did, however, meet with Mr. Watson a few times and shared my concerns about reports of how leadership, to include the police department and the city manager himself, was treating staff, citizens and the media. Because I saw no evidence of a change, my concerns were reflected in Mr. Watson’s annual performance appraisal for 2014. (Read pdf pages 28-30 here).
With that said, I have no doubt that both the present and previous council were informed about the problems with ORPD leadership before they were escalated into the media. All council members had the option to take action, but, to my knowledge, none did. Starting on January 18, 2015 and continuing through today, all of council has been contacted by at least five former officers, four different citizens and a number of anonymous emails sharing similar concerns about ORPD leadership and expressing a desire for an investigation.
As the following timeline demonstrates, I attempted to gather, analyze and share information in a manner that both complied with law and afforded the city manager ample opportunity to investigate the concerns that came to light as a result of the Bayless grievance. Unfortunately, as of last night, Mr. Watson has maintained his original position that he will not investigate anything unless council orders him to do so.
1/13/15 7:10a.m. Officer Bayless submits his resignation to the ORPD*
1/13/15 11:35a.m. Officer Bayless is reprimanded for an incident that occurred on 11/4/14 and for which he was exonerated by the TBI months prior.*
1/14/15 Officer Bayless delivers this grievance file to the City Manager, Personnel Director and other stated officials contained within.*
1/14/15 9:52a.m. City Council receives an email from “Bobby Hill” indicating what is occurring with Officer Bayless and sharing a list of concerns about what is occurring within the department. This is the first time that full council is made aware of the Bayless situation.
1/14/15 7:29p.m. City Council receives a follow up email from Hill updating us on the situation with Bayless.
1/14/15 10:18p.m. Councilwoman Ellen Smith notifies Mr. Watson via email about the Hill emails.
1/15/15 12:06 a.m. Mr. Watson first replies to all of council about the matter indicating that he is looking into it.
1/15/15 7:42a.m. Councilwoman Baughn requests a copy of Bayless’ response and of the officers who have left the department since Akagi arrived.
1/15/15 2:43 p.m. City Manager Mark Watson emails council with his response to Officer Bayless via a memo stating that he is “overruling the Police Chief…and there will be no discipline.”
1/16/15 10:41 a.m. Watson emails council with a list of officers who have departed in 2014.
1/16/15 1:08p.m. Baughn replies to Watson (and copies council, the city attorney and Akagi) restating her request for a complete listing of officers who have left since Akagi came on board in mid-2011.
1/22/15 9:39a.m. Watson provides council with a list of officers who have left since Akagi’s arrival along with a note that the city paid Mercer Group $24,448 to conduct the search for a police chief in 2011.
1/25/15 I send this email to the city manager, council and the press praising Watson for his decision on the Bayless matter and expressing trust that he was in the process of investigating the claims made by Officer Bayless and Mr. Hill. I wanted to believe that he was truly investigating, even though I had heard that he was not. This email did not point fingers or levy accusations against anyone specific. It simply referenced turnover data and generalized concerns shared with me about leadership issues.
1/30/15 11:47a.m. OakRidgeToday.com reports that Watson has “absolute confidence” in Police Chief Jim Akagi and has no plans to further investigate. I note that, even though he is a direct employee of council, Mr. Watson had not, at this time, nor since, directly communicated with me since my 1/25/15 email.
1/30/15 12:23p.m. I respond to Watson and copy the city clerk and press with this request for investigations.
1/30/15 3:48 p.m. Watson replies with a simple acknowledgement of receipt of my email. To date, this is the last communication I have received from Mr. Watson.
2/3/15 5:00p.m. WVLT reports on the story here. Once again, Watson indicates that he will not, on his own accord, investigate these matters. Instead, he expresses concern over the city’s image.
*According to Officer Bayless’ grievance file
Our problems did not develop overnight nor will they be resolved overnight, but avoidance is no longer an option. We must begin to address these issues and we must begin to do so now. Censure me or censor me, I will not cease giving a voice to those who need it. And I will never prioritize positivity over the welfare of our officers and our community.