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Chief Couch gets job back
Divided council reinstates suspended chief
new deh city council cliff couch mug
Suspended Police Chief Clifton Couch was reinstated by the Great Bend City Council Tuesday night. - photo by Tribune file photo

In other business Tuesday night, the Great Bend City Council:

• Approved a motion to adopt a resolution placing the renewal of the quarter-cent city sales tax for street work on the Nov. 7 election ballot. The quarter-cent city sales tax for streets was approved on the April 1 , 2008,and became effective on July 1 , 2008, and sunseted 10 years later. Without the renewal of the sales tax, it would sunset on July 1, 2018. 

This was approved at the Aug. 7 council meeting which was 92 days before the Nov. 7 election date. The approval needed to be made within 90 days per state statute.

• Heard an economic development report from Great Bend Chamber President/CEO Jan Peters.  

• Approved a tree trimmer license for Creations by 3 Amigos.

• Approved a motion to adopt the Standard Traffic Ordinance and Uniform Public Offense Code. This is an annual matter when the city adopts updated versions of  both as prepared by the Kansas League of Municipalities.

• Approved abatements at: 408 Almond St., accumulation of refuse, owned by Travis Watkins; and 231 Fruit St., accumulation of refuse, owned by Manuel Tavarez Valdez.

A divided Great Bend City Council voted Tuesday night to reinstate suspended Police Chief Clifton Couch. The action met with cheers and a standing ovation from a capacity crowd crammed in the Great Bend Events Center.

It was Councilman Dana Dawson who asked the reinstatement be on the regular meeting agenda Tuesday and it was Dawson who made the motion which passed with a 4-3 vote. Voting for the motion were Dawson, Cory Zimmerman, Brock McPherson and Mike Boys, and voting against it were Joel Jackson, Vicki Berryman and Allene Owen.

“I believe that due to the reasoning that the problem between was him and an administrator and since that administrator has since resigned, now I would like to make a motion that we reascend and expunge from the record the notice dated July 24, 2017, suspending Chief Couch with potential for termination,” he said. This led to a roar of applause.

“One thing, Howard Partington did not resign, he retired,” Mayor Mike Allison said. This prompted boos from those present.

Dawson amended his motion.

Couch had appealed his suspension and a hearing before the council was expected this week. However, the reinstatement renders this hearing moot.

“If you lift the suspension, then you will not have the hearing he asked for, you realize that?” Allison said.

Dawson indicated that was fine with that.

But, “I do want this hearing,” Owen said. It would be a chance for the original allegations made by Partington and Couch to be addressed, and “they need to be addressed.”

On July 24, the Great Bend City Council held the special meeting with the sole agenda item being an executive session to discuss non-elected personnel matters involving Couch and now retired Partington.

Following the session, the council approved suspending Couch with pay with the potential for termination. This was based on comments he made during the June 29 special meeting where Couch alleged unethical conduct by Partington and Allison.

Partington had maintained Cliff had been insubordinate. The council on June 29 called for a management and compensation study of the Police Department.

Allison said Tuesday night, this is more than a dispute between two people. “It was a person (Couch) who decided he didn’t have to do what his boss (Partington) said he had to do.”

This comment garnered jeers from the audience.

But, Dawson said, he was told he had to take concerns to Partington and couldn’t talk with anyone else. “So, what else was he supposed to do.”

This was the latest in a string of council meetings moved to the Events Center due to large crowds, made up mostly of Couch supporters. Several meetings have erupted with shouting from some in the audiences chastising the council and city officials for what they see as feet dragging.

But, the crowd Tuesday night was more subdued and there were few outbursts.

This divisive matter dates back to June. There have been several executive sessions and special meetings regarding the issue that has sparked ongoing frustration and anger from many in the community who believe Couch has been wronged by the city.

It has also spawned a movement from Couch supporters to install blue and white pro-Couch signs in their yards.

In addition, as a result of the controversy, Partington retired and Ward 2 Councilman Wayne Henneke resigned, both citing personnel nasty and belligerent comments directed at them and their families.