Highland Police Chief Fred Waser has prepared a letter of resignation following a closed meeting of the city council April 2 at which aldermen discussed dissolving the police department.
Waser said he was lied to about the meeting. He also said the Highland City Council has refused to give him the staff needed to perform his job duties and cited lack of cooperation from the council as reasons for his resignation.
A special meeting was called last week and the Villager Journal was notified; however, the newspaper was told the entire meeting would be in executive session to discuss personnel issues. No press was present for the meeting, which took place at Highland Water Company.
Waser said he is required by city ordinance to attend all council meetings, so when he heard there was to be a special meeting he asked Carol Frolow, clerk/treasurer, where the meeting was to be held and at what time. The chief said Frolow told him he didn't have to attend the meeting because the discussion was about the "mayor not doing his job." Waser said he asked her if the meeting was about him and she told him it was not.
Frolow refused to answer questions Monday about the meeting or Waser's accusation.
Councilwoman Vicki Brink said she was told the meeting was being held at Highland Water because they didn't want "ears to hear through the walls." She confirmed that the council discussed eliminating the police department at the meeting.
The Freedom of Information Act requires all meetings to be open to the public except for the "purpose of considering employment, appointment, promotion, demotion, disciplining, or resignation of any public officer or employee."
According to Waser, the council discussed dismantling the police department and hiring a part-time city marshal. He said Highland Mayor David Shackelford called him aside two days after the meeting and enumerated a list of concerns discussed at the meeting relating to Waser. These included the use of gas charge cards, the need to prepare an inventory of police department property, reports about the K-9 vehicle Waser has reportedly been seen driving in Smithville, expenses related to winterizing police vehicles, expenses for repairs to police vehicles, the purchase of a police jacket, the hiring of reserve officers and reports of non-authorized personnel in police vehicles.
Waser said the council never discussed these items with him but he would have been glad to answer their questions. He said he understood the inventory list was not required until 2004, that he has never taken the police vehicle to Smithville, and that his budget had been approved which authorized all of the mentioned expenses.
Waser said he had spoken to four individuals who had expressed an interest in being reserve officers, but he had not hired any of them, despite rumors to the contrary. He suspects this came about because one of the reserve officers had been in his office completing paperwork to attend a training session.
Waser said a reserve officer would cost the city only $15 per year. He explained the officers were all willing to pay for their classes and buy their own uniforms; the only expense the city would incur for a reserve officer would be worker's compensation insurance. Waser said it is almost impossible to cover the city 24 hours a day, seven days a week with the current staff.
"Nobody, nobody talked to me about any of this. It went from coffee house rumors to executive session," Waser said.
Waser said Monday he planned to resign at the April 9 meeting. In his resignation letter he wrote, "In light of a report on a recent executive session shared with me by Mayor Shackelford it behooves me to make public the following statement:
"As a duly sworn officer of the law it is my responsibility to serve and protect the citizens of the city of Highland by enforcing the laws by which we must live … It has become apparent, however, that council chooses to change rules and regulations concerning how my department is run on a regular basis, making compliance with those rules impossible.
"At the inception of this department, the municipal league rules and regulations were followed concerning wages and hours of staff. Council soon objected to paying for overtime and on-call, expecting two employees to cover the city 24/7/365. You can do the math for yourself, it just doesn't work. They also objected to the hiring of additional manpower to provide safe law enforcement coverage for the community.
"Adjustments were reluctantly agreed upon that included a salaried position for myself, time and a half for my officer when called out and a part-time third officer. I now have available four individuals who are willing to volunteer their time and personal money to help provide reserve coverage for our community, but Council has refused my requests to meet with the personnel committee to initiate this service.
"I cannot and will not continue to accept the responsibility of chief of police of the city of Highland under these unsafe, unpredictable conditions.
"I cannot ask my staff to endanger themselves and I will not be a party to the unlawful practices of this council…"
Councilmen David Harris, who called the meeting, said the executive session was called to "protect the mayor and chief of police."
"I thought executive meetings were supposed to be held in confidence, but 12 hours after the meeting the public knew more about the meeting than the council," Harris said. "I can assure you, I won't request any more executive meetings without inviting the public."
Harris said there were issues discussed at the meeting that haven't been brought to light. "There are two sides to the story," he said.
Prior to the interview with Waser, the mayor denied the police department was under discussion. Asked what was going on with the department, he responded, "Nothing, unless you know something I don't know." Shackelford attended the closed meeting at which the department was discussed. He was unavailable for comment after the newspaper interviewed Waser.