Smithville Police Chief Randy Caplinger is apparently ready to fight for his job.
(VIEW VIDEO OF CITY COUNCIL MEETING BELOW)
During a special meeting of the Mayor and Aldermen Tuesday evening, Caplinger appeared with his attorneys, Sarah Cripps and Brandon Cox seeking due process after being placed on suspension pending termination by Mayor Jimmy Poss last Friday. Speaking on his behalf, Cripps said that Caplinger, a veteran law enforcement officer, has done nothing wrong and will not resign. A contingent of Caplinger supporters filled the meeting room to back the embattled Police Chief.
Since no action could be taken by the aldermen on a severance package, the reason for which the special meeting was called Tuesday evening, Mayor Poss now has the option of sending a letter to the chief informing him that he is being terminated. If so, Caplinger has seven business days to request a hearing before the entire board of aldermen who has the power to sustain or overturn a termination . Caplinger's request for a hearing must be made to the mayor. The mayor then has five business days to respond. If the process were to get that far, both Mayor Poss and City Attorney Vester Parsley say Caplinger would be granted a hearing.
Saying he felt the department needs new leadership, Mayor Poss took the action to suspend Chief Caplinger Friday with the support of Police Commissioner Jason Murphy. Both Alderman Murphy and City Attorney Parsley were at the meeting.
According to Cripps, the Chief was first presented a letter of resignation at that meeting with the mayor but Caplinger refused to sign it. "On Friday March 13 suddenly and without any foreknowledge, Mr. Caplinger was presented a letter of resignation prepared beforehand by city officials of whom we know not. He was requested to sign that at a meeting attended by Mayor Poss, City Administrator Hunter Hendrixson, Police Commissioner and Alderman Jason Murphy, and Attorney Parsley. At that time he (Caplinger) declined to sign the letter presented to him," said Attorney Cripps.
But Parsley told the Aldermen Tuesday evening that Caplinger brought up the subject of a buyout in consideration for his resignation at the Friday meeting. "We met with him last week. He requested that he appear before the board and ask that they consider a payment of six months to a year of his upcoming salary in consideration of his resignation," said Parsley.
According to Parsley, the reason for the special called meeting Tuesday night was to consider the "buy out" or "severance pay" option since only the aldermen can make that decision. Parsley, however said he would not recommend authorizing a "buy out" because Caplinger does not have an employment contract with the city and that it sets a bad precedent for the future. "I would point out first of all that we don't have a written contract with the Chief and in the past we have not paid anyone an annual salary when they weren't actually working. That being the case I think it does set a bad precedent for the city to pay someone who isn't on a written contract. Therefore he is an employee at will. It would be my recommendation that the city not do that," said City Attorney Parsley.
Cripps said Chief Caplinger has not tendered a resignation nor has he been given a reason for his suspension. " Chief Caplinger spent 30 years in public service with the Tennessee Highway Patrol and then came to this job in May 2010 desiring to continue to serve the public. As I address you tonight, Chief Caplinger and his counsel still have not been apprised of the reason or reasons behind his sudden suspension without pay that occurred on March 13. Chief Caplinger comes here tonight asking very little of you. He will not resign under a cloud and he will not go quietly into the dark night. Chief Caplinger wishes to make it clear to everyone who is here that he categorically denies wrongdoing in any shape, form, or fashion. Moreover, he stands before you tonight ready, willing, and eager to defend himself in a public forum with zeal and energy and to allow the chips to fall where they may and upon whomsoever they will."
"The foundation and the cornerstone upon which our American Judicial System is founded is the concept of due process and that encompasses a few key elements. One of those is a written statement notifying the accused or in this case the person who is being asked to resign of the allegations and charges against him. Secondly, written notice of a hearing that is scheduled to hear these matters. Finally and maybe most importantly, an opportunity to be heard and to state his case in a full and fair hearing. We welcome that scrutiny. We demand due process because for 30 years with the Tennessee Highway Patrol and almost five years as Police Chief for the City of Smithville, Chief Caplinger has not received any reprimands. He has not been the subject of disciplinary action by this honorable board nor by officials in the State of Tennessee's government. In closing, as I stated we will not resign. We demand due process and I'd like to ask all of those present who support the Chief to stand and be heard," said Cripps
The crowd attending the meeting then rose to their feet and applauded and cheered their support for Chief Caplinger.
Both Aldermen Josh Miller and Shawn Jacobs expressed frustration for not being made aware of the decision on Chief Caplinger until after he was suspended. "Friday a board member called me and told me about what had taken place with Chief Caplinger. I was in the dark about this," said Alderman Miller. " I did not know until after the fact. I immediately started making phone calls to find out why and what for. I wanted to know. I think I have a right just like everyone else. I started hearing about a list. Later that evening I also found out that many city police officers and many city employees knew this. I was one of the board members who did not know this. In business or anything in life if someone goes behind my back deliberately I question the motive. I met with Mr. (Hunter) Hendrixson yesterday (Monday) and I saw the list and after I read it I immediately asked him for any write-ups on Mr. Caplinger. I did not get any. All I want is facts. I don't care what "he" says or "she" says. I want facts. People have put their trust in us as a board and its our duty to make sure that the motives are pure and clean," said Alderman Miller.
""I was caught totally by surprise. I actually think I was the last Alderman to be notified of the Chief's suspension," said Alderman Jacobs. " I heard that from Mr. Miller who called me at work Friday. I was totally shocked. I had no idea this was coming down. I really did not know what to think. I really felt betrayed. I am the longest serving member on this board. I have been police commissioner. But no one took the opportunity to discuss it with the rest of the board before anything was done or at least with Mr. Miller and myself. I just think that this is not good government. That does not smell like good government to me. I think its reprehensible that something like that occurred in a vacuum without us being able to sit down together as ladies and gentlemen and discuss things. I'm not really aware of any problems at all with Chief Caplinger's performance. No one is perfect. I think the Chief has done a good job for us. The biggest complaint I have heard is about morale in the police department which is a huge shock to me because we have not lost but one police officer in almost five years. We've been retaining our officers. May I say I would like to compliment the entire department. They have been doing a fantastic job. Even if morale is low the department has been doing a fantastic job in my opinion under the Chief's leadership be it good or bad. And if you have a morale problem, I don't think firing someone is necessarily the way you address that every time. It's not always from the top that morale is set. I am truly bothered by the way this has gone down. I am truly bothered by the fact that it almost happened in a vacuum without input from other members of the board. I know this is a responsibility that the mayor does have. The mayor and the department head do have that option to do that (suspend) but given the magnitude of this position and given the fact that for ten years we've had a rotating chair in there with police chiefs, it's time it stopped. It's time we have a chief and allow him to build and run his department. If I am presented with evidence that shows that Mr. Caplinger has done something atrocious that deserves dismissal I might change my mind. But at the moment I think this has been a terrible rush to judgment and I think it has been a slap in the face not only to Mr. Caplinger but especially to this board which is duly elected by the citizens of this city, and of course to the great citizens of this city itself," said Alderman Jacobs.
Alderman Gayla Hendrix stressed that the reason for the special meeting Tuesday night was not to make a decision on terminating Chief Caplinger but to consider action on a severance package had he chosen to tender a resignation, which he did not do. "I appreciate Mr. Jacobs and Mr. Miller's comments but this is not a termination hearing. It's not a public forum. I was notified that the mayor, the administrator, and the commissioner did meet with the chief and that the chief expressed his desire to resign or retire and that he asked for a severance package, which they do not have the authority to grant or deny and that we (aldermen) were having a special called meeting tonight specifically for that reason. There has been no reason for anyone to give us any kind of information of wrongdoing. Nobody has told me anything of the Chief doing anything wrong. The only thing I have heard is that he resigned or retired and asked for a severance package. We're here tonight and people are bringing up things that are not on this agenda for this special called meeting. What I understand is that his attorney has announced that he is withdrawing a resignation or retirement, whichever it was. Therefore we have no reason to meet," said Alderman Hendrix.
"My understanding is he is not asking for a severance package at all tonight and if he is not requesting that then there is no other business that can be conducted tonight," added City Attorney Parsley.
"I just want to make clear that I was never officially notified of tonight's meeting but I did indeed know that this was merely a meeting to consider the severance package. I know we could not take any other action tonight. I just think the people have a right to know the way this was carried out. It was very distasteful to me. This is public policy. People have a right to know what is going on in government. It is an open meeting," Alderman Jacobs said in response to Alderman Hendrix.
"I agree with you on that Mr. Jacobs and when we get to a due process hearing I think all of that needs to be presented to us but at this point the only information I had was that the Chief was either retiring or resigning and its none of our business why he would do either one. There is no reason to look into that today," replied Alderman Hendrix.
Attorney Cripps repeated that Chief Caplinger has not tendered a resignation.