Pleasant View council gets earful over police chief's firing

Wednesday , July 23, 2014 - 6:05 PM

PLEASANT VIEW — It was standing room only at City Hall, with about 150 feisty residents packing the room to speak out about the sudden termination of the city’s police chief of 15 years.

Tuesday marked the first time city council members had met after their emergency July 12 Saturday session where they deliberated behind closed doors for three hours and then emerged and voted 3-2 to remove Scott Jackson.

Pleasant View resident Sara Urry drew long and loud applause when she took the mayor and city council to task for that action.

“I don’t understand all the details, but if there were people that were upset and if you had some harsh feelings, it might have been better to sit over the weekend,” Urry said. “It might not have been appropriate for Chief Jackson to ask to be fired, but it’s not appropriate for the mayor to act hastily — or the city administrator.”

Former Councilman Kevin Bailey agreed that Pleasant View residents lacked all the information about Jackson’s firing. But he suggested they give their elected officials the benefit of the doubt.

“I don’t know what he did wrong and that’s been talked a lot about here,” Bailey said. “As a community, we elected these people and we need to stand behind them.”

In response to a government records request, Pleasant View City released a stack of emails and texts to the Standard-Examiner last week describing how Mayor Toby Mileski and City Administrator Melinda Greenwood disagreed with Jackson’s handling of an ongoing internal affairs investigation into one of his officers who allegedly had an affair and possibly misused city resources while on duty.

Greenwood, at Mileski’s recommendation — both had been approached by the investigated officer’s angry wife — conducted her own parallel investigation, much of it occurring while Jackson was out of town on a pre-approved vacation.

After his return, Jackson said he went in to brief Greenwood and saw that her investigation had picked up speed. At that point, he suggested putting his officer on paid administrative leave and asking POST (Peace Officer Standards and Training) or the County Attorney’s office to take over the probe.

Jackson said the officer under investigation was placed on administrative leave the day before he himself received the same treatment for insubordination. That was Friday, July 11, and by 3 p.m. the following day, Jackson had officially been ousted.

Pleasant View’s small police department is currently down three people, with Jackson’s removal, the officer under investigation out on leave and the death of the city’s animal control officer.

“Out of the blue, they cut the hours and benefits that we’d been historically paying our animal control officer,” Jackson said, adding that he assumed the animal control duties as part of his own workload for about six months.

Prior to Tuesday’s meeting, Jackson took out a half-page ad in the Standard-Examiner titled “Shame on Pleasant View City Leaders” that consisted of the same copy he’d sent out in a letter to explain his side of the story. Jackson also joined others to help pay for a second half-page ad that ran Tuesday, pointing out that only two of the five council members had voted in favor of his termination. That ad urged residents to attend the city council session and ask that the issue be placed on their Aug. 12 agenda for a public hearing and another vote that could possibly reinstate Jackson.

“Since the city council didn’t give me an opportunity to explain what was gong on, I was trying to point out some of the basic facts that had occurred,” Jackson said of his first paid ad. “That was really the whole purpose of it, to make the public more aware of what went on.”

During Tuesday’s public comment period, resident Mike Murtha stood up and said he’d read all 142 pages of texts and emails released to the Standard-Examiner, and he was convinced that there was more to Jackson’s termination than “bruised egos during a single disagreement.”

“It’s far more probable to believe . . . that differences in leadership, philosophy and style were the real reasons and nothing more,” Murtha said. “The election results of 2013 removed our former mayor for lackluster performance and leadership. It was a pervasive culture that spread like a cancer over an 8-year period within the city staff, and that paradigm is now changed.”

Murtha applauded the council’s decision “that most of you made to honor Jackson’s request” to be terminated, but said that Jackson now “wants an extortion severance payment from your egregious decision to honor his hasty request to be terminated without cause.”

By phone Wednesday, Jackson told the Standard-Examiner he had not asked the city for severance and it had not been part of his contract.

“During our closed session, they asked me if I’d be moving on and what I’d like to see happen,” Jackson said. He said his reply was that he’d like to be able to give two weeks notice, stay on until the city could replace him, and assist in that transition.

“That’s all I was hoping for,” he said.

By phone Wednesday, Mileski said that he and the city council “listened” to residents Tuesday but beyond that, he could give no comment because the city was conducting an ongoing personnel matter.

However, Mileski said Jackson is not under any kind of investigation.

The agenda for the city council’s Aug. 12 meeting gets set the week before, Mileski said, but gave no inkling as to whether the issue could get another hearing and vote.

Jackson served in an appointed position, meaning that Mileski — with the advice and consent of the city council — had the authority to terminate him without cause. However, Jackson and his attorney, Randy Neal, believe they failed to follow city and state code in the way they conducted his termination, and both have hinted at a possible lawsuit.

“I love the city, the people and the organization. I can still work with any of them,” Jackson said. “But I was so wronged that I’ve pretty much been put in that position even though it’s against my own nature (to sue).”

Contact reporter Cathy McKitrick at 801-625-4214 or Follow her on Twitter at @catmck.

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