Smithville Police Chief Randy Caplinger will soon be afforded a due process hearing before the Board of Aldermen on whether he should be reinstated after Mayor Jimmy Poss fired him last month. But before Caplinger gets that hearing, the Mayor and Aldermen have to agree on when to have it.
The city administration seems intent on conducting the hearing in the morning hours at city hall but that is not going over well with the attorney representing Caplinger, Sarah Cripps nor with Alderman Shawn Jacobs, who says he can't attend a morning meeting because of his work schedule and is asking that it be held at a more convenient time for himself and all others involved including the public.
Caplinger's due process hearing had been scheduled for a special meeting Friday, April 10 at city hall starting at 10 a.m. but Cripps, in a letter to City Attorney Vester Parsley, Jr. said she and her co-counsel Brandon Cox were not available at that time. She suggested having it on Friday, April 24.
Cripps is also wanting to have the hearing when Caplinger's supporters can attend. In her letter to Parsley, Cripps alleges that the city's decision for a morning hearing is to avoid that. "You (Parsley) informed me that Mr. Caplinger's due process hearing will not be conducted at the City Council's regularly scheduled meeting but, instead will occur at a "special meeting" held in the morning hours. In view of the demonstration of such strong public support in favor of Chief Caplinger's retention, I am not at all surprised that the City of Smithville has taken the decision to conduct the due process termination hearing "in the morning hours" as to avoid the penetrating and unremitting gaze of the public. In this regard, Chief Caplinger again respectfully requests that he be afforded a hearing before the three person board or commission as required by Smithville City Code Section 4-205(7) prior to conducting a hearing before the entire City Council," wrote Cripps.
She also wants City Judge Hilton Conger to serve as Parliamentarian at the hearing and be designated to rule on any evidentiary and legal issues which counsel for either side may raise during Chief Caplinger's due process hearing.
Cripps addressed the Mayor and Aldermen briefly with her concerns during the regular monthly meeting Monday night . "We're here to say that we have been advised that the meeting on Chief Caplinger would be in the morning (hours). We are requesting that it be held at a regularly scheduled meeting of this body which would be in the evenings so that everybody could go. It was explained to our office that the meeting couldn't be held in the afternoon because the mayor drives a school bus for the board of education and Alderman (Danny) Washer also drives a school bus so they were not available. I was disappointed in the attempts, which I regard as reprehensible to hold a meeting of this magnitude in the morning at a time when it really makes a mockery of the term "public" hearing because two of the aldermen we know have prior commitments. It appears as though it's an attempt to circumvent the real intention of city code 4205 and to have the outcome foreordained. I just want to encourage everybody to govern in the sunshine and to make your decisions under the gaze of the public," said Cripps
"Sarah we have other meetings in the mornings that probably you are not aware of. This is not the only time," said Mayor Poss.
According to the new city charter adopted in 2013, Regular city council meetings are to be held once per month at 6:00 p.m. but special meetings may be called as needed either by the mayor or any two aldermen, giving at least 48 hours notice.
Alderman Jacobs said that he could not attend a morning meeting and added that he didn't understand why it could not be scheduled in the late afternoon or in the evening at a time when the mayor and the entire board of aldermen could attend which would also make it more convenient for the public. "The meetings we have had (previously) in the mornings were when I was able to attend in the mornings due to my work schedule. Now my work schedule has changed and I can only attend afternoon or evening meetings. My being able to attend afternoon or evening meetings is no different from you (Mayor) and Mr. Washer being able to attend morning meetings. I think as a member of this board I am entitled to be at any meeting and I think any effort should be made to let all members of the board be present. I too find it reprehensible that there seems to be no effort to accommodate those of us who are unable to attend. It certainly doesn't look good upon the city that it's going to be held when perhaps members of the public who would like to be here aren't going to be here. I think there may be some legal concern with this being scheduled (in the mornings). I think we're in some gray territory as far as whether this is even legal or not," said Alderman Jacobs
Mayor Poss asked Alderman Jacobs, "Have you checked with anybody to see if its legal?"
Alderman Jacobs replied "I have not because I hope we would all be ladies and gentlemen enough and be concerned enough about our responsibilities to the residents of the city that we could work out a time like we've always done. Before we've always worked to try to accommodate each other's schedule. I don't see why we can't do it this time. Any afternoon or evening I can be here. My work is out of town and I can't take mornings off because that's when the heaviest part of my work is done. I don't understand why we can't have an evening meeting. It seems like it would be more convenient for everybody including the public," he said.
"I don't think a meeting has been scheduled yet has it?" asked Alderman Gayla Hendrix. One was scheduled (April 10) but we got an email and Ms. Cripps asked for a different date. Several of us aren't available (to attend April 10). I've not gotten a message on another meeting. Has anyone else?" she asked
Alderman Danny Washer asked "What was the reason the first one was cancelled?"
Cripps replied "We had a conflict"
"I couldn't be here for that one either (April 10) because it was in the morning," said Alderman Jacobs.
"I think there's two or three of us who can't make that date (April 10) but we haven't discussed another date. I'm open to any date but let's discuss that through email," Alderman Hendrix said.
Alderman Washer said he would be willing to meet at any time provided it didn't conflict with his already planned personal vacation time. " You set the time and If I am in the county, if I'm available I'll be here. I don't care when it is. I want to get this done. Surely to goodness we can come together on one day when everybody can be here. I'll work my schedule to be here," he said.
"I think that is something we can easily pass an email around so we can get a consensus when we're all available. We can check calendars. There is no reason to hash on that tonight when we don't have everybody here (Alderman Jason Murphy was absent Monday night) to make a decision," said Alderman Hendrix.
Mayor Poss asked Alderman Jacobs " What time do you get off work Shawn?"
"It varies. Today I didn't get home until 4:00 p.m." he said.
"So how do we plan on that"? asked Poss
"Well I'll be home by 6 p.m. I'll certainly be home by late afternoon or by 6 p.m." replied Alderman Jacobs.
"So in other words, we've got to accommodate you. I don't even want to argue the thing," said Mayor Poss
"I don't either but we've always worked to try to accommodate everyone before," answered Alderman Jacobs.
"We can if everybody will try to work with everybody," added Mayor Poss.
"I can make any late afternoon or evening," Alderman Jacobs said
"That's what I'm saying. Everybody has got to change it for you," Mayor Poss concluded.
In a statement to WJLE after the meeting, Alderman Jacobs said "I'm really not trying to be argumentative about this. It's really very simple. I just want the hearing to be held at a time when all members of the Board of Aldermen can be there and when more of the general public can potentially be present if they want to be. I just want our action to be completely open for public scrutiny," he said.