In a brief statement, Great Bend Police Chief Clifton Couch Friday afternoon appealed his suspension by the City Council this past Monday night. The council’s action was based on “false or reckless” accusations made by Couch about unethical and dishonest conduct by City Administrator Howard Partington and other employee handbook violations.
“Please consider this official notification of my desire to appeal the decision of the Great Bend City Council regarding my suspension and termination,” the statement reads.
The suspension notice, which left the door open to fire the chief, was given to Couch Monday and extended the opportunity to appeal. According to the notice, Couch had to make his request in writing to the city clerk by 4:30 p.m. Friday.
A hearing date has not been set, but must be within two weeks of when the appeal was delivered.
However, it states, the council will make its final ruling shortly after the hearing. If he had not filed an appeal, he would have been automatically terminated as of Monday.
The hearing will likely be held in an executive session behind closed doors, which is permitted. Couch can request a public hearing, but the council is under no obligation to oblige that request.
“I’m very obviously being suspended and terminated due to the fact that I made allegations of unethical conduct by the mayor (Mike Allison) and city administrator,” Couch said. “I hope that the City will hold this hearing in a fair and public manner so that the citizens of Great Bend can know the truth.”
The decision to suspend split the council and was approved on a five-three vote following a 45-minute executive session. This was a special meeting and the sole agenda item was an executive session to discuss “employment issues common to two individual employees pursuant to non-elected personnel matter exception.”
Voting against the suspension were Council members Dana Dawson, Brock McPherson and Cory Zimmerman. Voting for were Joel Jackson, Vicki Berryman, Wayne Henneke, Allen Owen and Mike Boys.
It was Dawson who offered a strong rebuke of the move. “I have never seen a man so presumed guilty and have to prove his innocence. It’s a damn shame.”
“Serious consideration is being given to termination of your employment,” the notice reads. It also cited what the council alleges was Couch’s refusal to conduct a harassment investigation of the Police Department as requested by Partington and Couch’s comments that he couldn’t set aside his differences and work with Partington. These were all violations of the city employee handbook.
“For the above stated reasons, the city’s governing body at this time lacks confidence in your ability to perform the duties of chief of police within the written policies and requirements of the City of Great Bend,” the notice continues.
The vote to suspend Couch followed a series of special meetings and executive sessions over a blame game related to problems in the Police Department.