Randy Caplinger apparently will not be getting his job back as Smithville Police Chief
After a seven hour due process hearing Friday, the Smithville Aldermen voted 3-2 to uphold Mayor Jimmy 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.
But the vote itself has become an issue.
Caplinger's attorneys Sarah Cripps and Brandon Cox insist that the city's charter requires a two thirds majority vote (four out of five) to confirm a mayoral termination. And Aldermen Jacobs and Miller said they had spoken with legal representatives of the Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS) who told them that according to the city's charter, four votes were required to approve the action of the mayor.
Cripps and MTAS are basing their opinion on Article III of the Smithville City Charter regarding Organization and Personnel. Section 3.01, subsection (2) states that "All officers and employees of the city, except as otherwise specifically provided by ordinance, shall be appointed and removed by the Mayor but only with the approval of at least two-thirds (2/3) majority vote of the Council present voting upon the appointment or removal, and the employees shall be under the direction and control of the Mayor."
But City Attorney Vester Parsley cited another section in the charter, which seems to conflict with Section 3.01 in that it allows for only " a majority of the board" to approve removal of employees by the mayor. Parsley recommended that the aldermen follow this section of the charter. "My contention is that a simple majority would be enough," Hinting that there might be a legal challenge, Parsley added that "the courts may have to decide that issue," said Parsley.
The section of the charter to which Parsley refers is Section 3.08 in Article III which states that "The appointment and promotion of employees of the city shall be on a basis of merit, considering technical knowledge and education required to perform satisfactorily the work, experience in the particular or similar line of work and administrative or supervisory qualifications. The Mayor, or the City Administrator, if established by the Board, may, with the approval of a majority of the Board, make appointments, promotions, transfers, demotions, suspensions, and removal of all employees".
Throughout the hearing, Cripps and Cox called numerous witnesses to testify on Caplinger's behalf including the former Chief himself, trying to show that he was being treated unfairly; that similar things he was being accused of were being committed by other employees who were going unpunished; and that the city administration was undermining his efforts to lead the police department.
However, several officers, including the Captain, detectives, and sergeants testified against Caplinger, blaming him for creating confusion and tension between officers essentially by making decisions and then not supporting supervisors when those directives were carried out.
Prior to the vote, Alderman Jacobs urged the council to follow the advice of MTAS and tensions grew between he and Alderman Gayla Hendrix as Jacobs accused some city officials of conspiring against him. "I called MTAS Legal Consultant Melissa Ashburn on the way to the meeting today. She texted me right before the meeting and said according to Section 3.01 of the Smithville Charter, firing requires a two thirds vote of council members present. If five are present, this would require four votes to fire. If four are present it would require three votes to fire. I would submit that is why many of you conspired not to have me present here today. I think we have to go with the MTAS legal opinion. I don't think we have a choice. I'm not saying this because of Randy Caplinger. If it were a dog catcher, police officer, someone in public works, or any employee of the City of Smithville, I would take the same stand. This is a farce. This is a circus. You all have tried to act without the inclusion of the entire board and certainly without the scrutiny of the public of the City of Smithville. I am offended. It was a big hardship upon me today to make this meeting. I think that by being a long standing member of the board and Vice Mayor, I deserve more respect than this. And certainly, Mr. Caplinger, who is the person in question at this point also deserves more respect regardless of his guilt or innocence of these charges" said Alderman Jacobs.
"Mr. Jacobs, I would like to say I do not appreciate you reprimanding this board saying we didn't want you included here. This has been a hardship for all of us not just yourself. I've missed a full day's work just as these other board members have. You keep implying that the rest of us have some kind of vendetta against you. I don't understand where that comes from but that is certainly not the case. Or it's not with me. I can only speak for myself," said Alderman Hendrix.
"I wasn't necessarily referring to you", replied Alderman Jacobs.
"Well that's what you have been doing for the last several meetings and I do not appreciate it," Alderman Hendrix responded.
"No ma'am I have just referred to some members," said Alderman Jacobs.
Meanwhile, Alderman Danny Washer responded to allegations made during the hearing that he had once tried to intervene with an officer and later the sheriff to keep his son in law from being charged with DUI. "I don't feel like I did anything wrong. If I did I'll apologize. But Mr. Caplinger and every officer in this room or that I spoke to or dealt with and myself included has all told me that if there is anything I can do for you, let me know. If I can help you in any way. I told them the same thing. I'd do the same thing again tomorrow. I did nothing wrong in trying to help my son in law. I didn't use my influence or my power. I don't care what anybody says. The only thing I said was I'm Danny Washer and he is my son in law. If I can take him home and maybe keep him from losing his job I'd appreciate it. Nobody knew I was calling the Sheriff except me. Nobody up there. I called him (Sheriff). He talked to his officer. I again talked to the sheriff and he said I am supporting my officer. I am backing him. I said I understand. No hard feelings. I just wanted to try and help my son in law. If I am wrong in doing that then I am not much of a daddy, step dad, father in law, husband, or friend if I can't try to help you. If Randy (Caplinger) had been working that night, I would have called him. I just knew who was working. He always told me just like every other officer if there is anything I can ever do to help you call me. That's what I did. If I'm wrong and I broke the law I'm sorry. I didn't know I was. I was just trying to help my family or I'd help a friend the same way," said Alderman Washer.
Mayor Poss also noted some criticism directed at him during the hearing. "There has been a lot of talk today. I'm like Danny. I've been wore out (with criticism). Most of it was unwarranted. I didn't know I was going to be on trial today. But evidently I am," said Mayor Poss. Some officers testified during the hearing that Mayor Poss would often show up at or near crime scenes as they were conducting investigations and that the mayor had been critical of one former city police officer who he thought had spent too much time at the sheriff's office on one occasion.
As she cast her vote for termination, Alderman Hendrix said she tried to look specifically at the allegations and to weigh the evidence. "Lack of leadership and loss of morale are the foremost allegations that upsets me. We've had testimony of five employees and most of them have worked for the city for numerous years. I can only imagine how difficult it is to have to come to a hearing like this and give testimony against your boss. It's not easy and I don't think any of those gentlemen would have done that if they did not feel it was necessary. It does sound like there is a lot of confusion in the department. It actually sounds fairly chaotic. Each department has to have a department head who can be the leadership figure and run it efficiently and effectively. From what I've heard today I don't see that. I love Randy Caplinger as a person but as a Chief of Police I'm going to vote with the mayor. We need a change, " she said.
"I do not take lightly the concerns of the officers who have had to testify here today. I value your opinions very much. I appreciate the job you all do. I am very concerned about what you have had to say here today. Obviously there was quite a bit of confusion in the department. However, I'm not sure that rises to the level of dismissing the chief, especially without these problems having been brought to the full board to begin with. I am also troubled by the fact that we don't have any written reprimands in Chief Caplinger's file or where the mayor or Mr. (Hunter) Hendrixson, or the police commissioner have tried to counsel the chief or discipline him in any way. I think if the problems were that severe, and I'm not saying they weren't, but I'm thinking if they were that severe then some action should have been taken and that it should have been documented and placed in a file so that we would have some evidence to go on when we were brought to this hearing here today," said Alderman Jacobs before voting against termination.